Dear pharmacists, why are you taking so long to fill my prescription?

More often than not, the pharmacy will be patients’ last stop in a typical outpatient hospital visit. Sometimes, patience maybe running thin with occasional tempers flare among them when pharmacists are perceived to be dragging their feet in prescription filling.

It is not difficult to understand the sentiments among patients given the long wait they have already endured before seeing a doctor. This can be very uncomfortable particularly when patients are already unwell to begin with. It is with little surprise that pharmacist filling their prescriptions are often being viewed as the person standing between them and their much anticipated freedom. After all, how hard could it be to just get those medicines off the shelves and dispense them?

As a matter of fact, the process of medication dispensing is more complex than it actually looks (as shown in the Figure below). The process starts with the screening of the prescription for validity (properly dated and signed by the prescriber) in addition to ascertaining that patient’s name, identity number, diagnosis, medication, strength, dose, frequency and duration are correctly written.

The pharmacist will subsequently counter-check the information with patient’s profile and past medication history (if any) from the database. The presence of any discrepancy at this stage would require the pharmacist to contact the prescriber immediately. The time required for this process varies broadly depending on the situation.

In straightforward cases, the solution maybe just a phone call away, whereas at times a pharmacist may have to go through different references for a sound alternative medical suggestion before contacting the prescriber. On other occasions, the process may be prolonged when the prescriber is not reachable (imagine if the doctor has now gone into a surgical theatre).

Only when every uncertainty is resolved, can the pharmacist proceed with label printing, filling of the prescription and medicine dispensing with concurrent counselling.


General processes involved in dispensing of medications at a pharmacy


It is important to note that, every step needs to be meticulously carried out to ensure that every patient will receive only the correct medication at the right dose indicated for the diagnosed condition whilst avoiding potential drug interaction.

After all, an error at any stage may undo both the doctor’s hard work of disease diagnosis as well as patient’s long exhausting effort of trying to recover. Therefore, the next time you experience a delay in getting your medications dispensed, do remember that the pharmacist is hard at work to ensure that you will leave the hospital with medications that are suitable, safe and effective for the intended treatment.

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Co-authored by:

Gan Pou Wee,
MPharm, BCPS, RPh

Lau Hui Ling
MPharm, PhD, RPh

John Tiong
John Tiong

PhD, MPharm, RPh

A pharmacist, pharmacy lecturer and researcher. A critical thinker with fervor for thought sharing.


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