Why does it take so long for phamacists to fill a prescription?

I give them a slip of paper with a common drug on it, and it take 45 minutes for them to put it in a bottle. What are they doing back there?

Increasing sales for the retail stores they are located in.

That too, but I was gonna say paperwork. Plus they have to count and double-count, and communicate with your insurance company - assuming you have one, and maybe look for generics, maybe a verification call to the prescribing dr.

What are they doing? Everybody else’s prescriptions that came in before you.

I know we’ve got a few pharmacists here, so I’ll leave the details to them, but the basic life of a prescription is to be entered into the computer, ensure your insurance is valid and active, the paper is filed, the label is printed and applied to a bottle, someone gets the pills off the shelf, counts them out into the bottle, and then someone else does a verification to ensure the right amount of the right drug is in the bottle, and then it’s finally put into the bin or hanging bag for pickup.

Time to do all of this without distractions is five to ten minutes, but there are thirty other prescriptions in the queue before yours, and the pharmacist is eternally being distracted by customers asking what’s the best cough syrup, where the corn pads are, etc. Not to mention time on the phone taking prescriptions from doctors’ offices, and time on the phone dealing with cantankerous insurance companies.

More than once, I’ve dropped off a prescription and waited for it, watching this little ballet and marveling that it’s possible to get a prescription done on the same day, much less within an hour.

And filling prescriptions for people who dropped their off before you did, and for doctors who called them in directly, and for people calling in refills over the phone . . .

Honestly, if I went in at the right time of day [dead of night at a 24-hour pharmacy across from the hospital] I’ve been able to get in and out of the pharmacy with my filled prescription in under 10 minutes.
It’s all down to timing.

My birth control pills come in a little brown box, though. There is literally nothing that needs to be done to them. You’d think they’d just toss the box at me and say “Go away!”

Yeah, I’ve noticed this. This happens even with pre-packaged drugs like birth control pills and creams.

Even if they’re not counting out pills, they still have to input your info into the computer, do their waltz with the insurance companies, print the label, etc. Of all the steps gotpasswords outlined, the only one they can skip with the prepackaged drugs is the actual pill counting, which would seem to account for only a small fraction of the total time anyway.

That means that the actual handling of pharmaceuticals is now the smallest part of a pharmacists job. The rest is all red tape made necessary by the insurance companies.

Pharmacy tech chiming in! I’m so glad to finally have a question up my alley in GQ!

Your prescription is handled by a lot of people in the pharmacy, and depending on location may be a very high-volume business. For example, our suburban location does 800+ prescriptions on a busy day (our record is well over 1,000, and we’ve broken 1k a couple of times in the 4 months I’ve been at this location.) We aren’t even 24-hour, we are open from 9 AM to 9 PM.

Your new prescription has to be scanned into a computer by a technician.
It is then typed into the computer, in line with the dropped-off and called-in prescriptions.
The pharmacist must then check what the technician has typed in, along with the other dropped-off and called-in prescriptions.
A claim to the insurance company is made, if everything goes right, then…
A technician puts the pills in the bottle or labels the pre-counted box of medicine
A pharmacist gets the final look at the drug, and prints out the leaflet and barcode to be scanned at the register.

Keep in mind that pharmacists are expensive, and there will probably only be 2 or 3 during busy periods, during which time they’re also having to answer phones for called-in prescriptions (in my state, technicians cannot do this), counsel patients on new medicines, answer questions from patients about drugs we can’t answer (although I work hard to educate myself to answer whatever I can), give OTC product recommendations (due to liability, they have to do this, even if I know what they need), and a thousand other things that demand their attention.

As a closing note, and what I mention to patients all the time when they say “45 MINUTES?! Can’t you just put a rush on it?” - you give the photo lab an hour, don’t you? :wink:

I don’t know if the delay is always about the insurance though. In my experience (maybe different because I’m in Canada?) I wait an hour, then they bring my pre-packaged box to the counter, where I proceed to give them my insurance info and they spend another 10 minutes poking around in the computer.
(Sorry - I put my post in before chaoticbear’s very informative answer. I never mind waiting or anything, but I did always wonder what took so long!)

It also does happen sometimes where you get to the counter, they have the prescription ready and it’s not on insurance. This happens most often when you’ve got a new insurance card and they didn’t get it from you at the drop-off step. Sometimes, though, you’ll have the same card, and somehow SOMETHING will have changed somewhere, and we have to call the insurance company to find out that your group number or ID or something has inexplicably changed to something not on the card and it’s not your fault.

Insurance problems are the most frustrating thing we deal with.

Wait, that means I get to be ticked off at two people for the time one of my simvastatins was a One-A-Day?

There’s also the sheer number of prescriptions medications on the shelves. Seriously, have you looked at the size of those behind-the-counter areas? Hundreds and hundreds of drugs to choose from - it’s bound to take a few minutes to locate the one you are looking for.

Some pharmacies in Europe and Australia have the rotating carousel shelving systems so they don’t have the walk around to find what they’re looking for.

It usually takes under 60 seconds around here.

Of course, we have a centralized computer system (all the pharmacist has to do is scan the barcode on the script and it’s confirmed, with the label printing automatically), and all prescription medicines are pre-packaged (and in those really long drawers near the counter) , but hey, that’s the price you have to pay for socialized medicine.

Even if you don’t have insurance, as I was for most of this year, your script does still go through the computer. At least where I go to get mine filled there’s software on the computer that checks for drug interactions and allergies which is a useful safeguard, and I presume there is some sort of tracking of inventory, especially for my husband’s pain medication which is potentially addicting and has value as a street drug.

Because my husband is on maintenance medication we frequently call in well in advance (a day or two) or actually needing the medication so when we go in it’s ready for us. At which point whoever is picking it up has to sign for any narcotics that may be in the batch, which the pharmacist and not the tech is involved with and that, too, takes time. When someone needs an antibiotic, for example, we still have to wait. Well, as it happens, I can usually combine it with a shopping trip to minimize my inconvenience, at least.

How do the pharmacists deal with the famously illegible writing of the typical physician? How often do they need to call the doctor’s office to clarify what they think it says?

Well, we deal with it all day long, it’s just that we can usually read it :wink:

But seriously, we do have to call a small handful of times throughout the day. More often the calls we have to place are “this drug doesn’t come in this strength” or “this drug has been off the market for a year” or “you wrote ‘take twice daily for 14 days’ but only gave them 14 tablets” and such.

Electronic prescribing is becoming more popular, and may speed some of this up, at least in terms of your wait time. Last month I had a doctor submit my prescription to my usual pharmacy on her computer, so she never had to give me the actual piece of paper with the prescription on it. By the time I drove from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy, it was ready. That pharmacy already has my insurance info on file, so it made things quick.