Overworked, understaffed: Pharmacists say industry in crisis puts patient safety at risk
An investigation by NBC News reveals that the U.S. community pharmacy profession may have been pushed close to its limit over the past decade. Interviews with 31 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in 15 states suggest they are working faster and for longer hours, often without time for meals or bathroom breaks, as they assume a greater range of responsibilities. Adding to the stress, the insiders disclose, is the fear that in the midst of their frenzied work day, they may have made a mistake that compromises a customer's well-being. Those concerns are amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, they add, as deep cleaning, coronavirus testing, and vaccination have become priorities. Without additional support, prescription errors with potentially catastrophic outcomes are inevitable. "Pharmacists are being asked to do additional tasks and aren't necessarily receiving the assistance that they need from their employer," agrees Al Carter, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. "That's a huge concern for pharmacists' well-being but also, more importantly, for patient safety." Scott Knoer, CEO of APhA, also noted: "Twenty years ago, you could make a decent living off the reimbursement of the drug and you had time to spend with patients." However, that is no longer the case, he said, and all community pharmacies have been having difficulties. The industry needs to switch away from incentives based on how many prescriptions a pharmacy fills, argues consultant Antonio Ciaccia, who worked with the state of Ohio and APhA on a new payment model. Pharmacy trade groups and other supporters are now lobbying for a national version of that model, which bestows "provider status" on pharmacists, meaning they can bill insurers for clinical services. Elsewhere, there is a drive to improve labor standards for pharmacy workers, by restricting shift durations and requiring safe staffing levels.