According to an NBCNews.com report, overworked and understaffed pharmacists are concerned that they are putting patients’ lives at risk. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, pharmacists aren’t just busy filling prescriptions. They are also dispensing COVID-19 vaccinations and answering a flurry of phone calls, including vaccine-scheduling questions. Consequently, pharmacists have less time to consult patients on their medications, and are more likely to make a fatal error, filling wrong prescriptions.
The NBCNews.com report says there are approximately 155,000 pharmacists working at big-chain drug stores. It’s not just in the last year that pharmacists have found themselves overworked. The trend of doing more with less staff, says NBCNews.com, has been going on for the last decade.
“They’re working faster, filling more orders and juggling a wider range of tasks with fewer staff members at a pace that many say is unsustainable and jeopardizes patient safety,” says the co-authors of the NBC News report.
But the coronavirus may likely prove to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
For the report, NBC News spoke to 31 retail pharmacists or pharmacy technicians in 15 states. Many work 12-hour shifts. Oftentimes, pharmacy staff are so overworked, they don’t have time to go to the bathroom or eat. The report says that some cry in their cars every day after work or lie awake at night worrying about mistakes they might have made while rushing. It’s an industry that has reached a breaking point, the pharmacists profiled in the report suggest.
One pharmacy technician employed at a CVS in New York told NBCNews.com that the expectations placed upon pharmacy workers are exceedingly high for the resources they are given. “We’re going to have a fatal error somewhere because we’re doing too many things at once,” the anonymous technician told NBCNews.com, fearful of losing employment if her name was disclosed.
Why are pharmacy staff so overworked and why are pharmacies so understaffed?
Some of the reasons, says the report, include declining profit margins for pharmacies, corporate consolidation “and an influx of new pharmacy school graduates in the past decade.”
This influx has led to fewer employment options and uncompetitive wages.
As for what kind of human errors are likely to occur because of being overworked, they can range from seemingly innocuous ones such as miscounting the number of pills in a bottle, to potentially fatal flaws like filling the wrong prescription or not heeding a drug interaction warning.
These days, big-chain pharmacies hold employees to meeting a range of metrics. Furthermore, employees are monitored for time spent on patient calls, prescription fills and the amount of vaccinations they give. This micromanagement began when pharmacy profits started declining last decade.
According to a survey, four out of every 5 retail chain pharmacists said they worked more than 10 hours each shift. In addition, many of the pharmacists who responded to the survey said that in order to properly perform their job responsibilities, they either arrived early or stayed late. Furthermore, many reported not taking any meal breaks.
Some pharmacists have developed kidney problems because they didn’t have time to take a bathroom break.
Read the full report at NBCNews.com here.