How a Retail Pharmacy Works

A lot of people get angry about one thing or another whenever they go to a pharmacy, whether it’s the wait time, insurance problems, or a medication is out of stock and has to be ordered. 

In this article, we’ll try to describe the inner workings of a retail pharmacy and the process of filling a prescription so you can get a better understanding of how everything works.

We’ll start out with a brief description of the inside of a retail pharmacy. 

First off, you should remember that most people that work in a pharmacy are not actually pharmacists, this is a common mistake for many customers. Most of the employees working in a pharmacy are either pharmacy technicians, pharmacy interns, or pharmacy clerks. Usually there’s only 1 or 2 pharmacists working at one time, depending on how big and busy the pharmacy is. In a 24- hour pharmacy, you might see about 3-4 pharmacists working at one time. As for the medications on the shelf, most of them are either non-controlled substances or controlled substances. The narcotics are always kept in a safe that only the pharmacist has access to.

Now, we’ll talk next about the process of filling a prescription. 

A lot of people get upset because they believe that they can just take a prescription to a retail pharmacy and have the medication given to them immediately. There’s about a hand-full of steps in actually filling a prescription, regardless of whether your medication is a simple inhaler or a suspension that needs to be reconstituted. Usually, the first thing that a pharmacy employee (usually a technician or intern) at the drop-off window asks you is whether or not you’ve been to that pharmacy before. This is to see whether or not you have a profile in the system. The problem with this is that if the customer says no, inexperienced employees may not think to look in the central system to see whether or not they’ve been to another store in the same chain. Once the employee has either determined that your profile is in the system or has added you in the system, they’ll attempt to process your prescription by inputting the information on the prescription into the system. A lot of times, there’ll be missing information such as drug strength, quantity, even the doctor’s name and their signature and date written. It’s silly to think that a doctor would forget to put their name on the prescription, but things like this are more common than people think.

After all the data has been entered into the system, the prescription claim will be processed electronically in real time to the insurance company (this usually takes a minute or two). 

It’s always a good idea to bring your insurance card in any case, usually your prescription insurance card has an ID number and a BIN number. This is where a lot of problems are encountered but it’s important to remember that it’s almost always never the retail pharmacy’s fault that a claim has been rejected. Common reasons for a claim being rejected are because the insurance company will only pay for a certain number of pills at a time, another reason is due to early refills, usually insurance companies will pay for a medication a few days before you run out, with some insulins they may even allow you to get it a week early.

The next process is to print out the prescription label and gather the medication and label it. 

After all this is done, the pharmacist verifies that all the information is correct and monitors for any kind of drug interactions, possible severe side effects, etc. Usually the pharmacist will write on the label any information that you should be aware of, so it’s not a good idea to automatically throw out the label without looking at it first.

This whole process takes roughly about 10-15 minutes, depending on how many prescriptions you have and how busy it is, as well as any problems that may occur. After which, the prescription is rung up and you’re asked whether or not you have any questions on the medication. It’s always a good idea to ask questions, even if they’re simple ones. Some doctors don’t really tell their patients anything about the medication so the patient thinks that they don’t have to know anything other than to take the medication.

The next time you go to get your prescription filled at a retail pharmacy, hopefully you’ll be aware of just how complicated filling a prescription can be.

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