VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Do you remember that time you spent waiting in line at the base pharmacy for your prescription wondering if you’ll miss your “essential” meeting? We have all been there. Where we all haven’t been is inside that pharmacy that fills the hundreds of prescriptions daily to see what they are thinking.
I was given the opportunity to spend a day with the 30th Medical Group’s pharmacy unit to see firsthand exactly what they do — with safety as their number one priority, the pharmacy has also been working to maximize efficiency.
As I watched each pharmacist and technician work in the most efficient manner, I felt guilty probing them with questions while their piles of prescriptions stacked up. Each pharmacist and technician has mastered the ability to multi-task — balancing customer service with completing tasks as quickly as possible.
At this pharmacy, speed is key, but quality and safety are king. Every minute of work counts when there are 175 refill prescriptions to be filled by noon. On average, the pharmacy fills 325 prescriptions per day. I can’t even send 325 snapchats a day — and I snapchat a TON. That being said, today they filled over 450.
Here is the process to fill one prescription: customer takes a ticket, gets called to the window, gives the pharmacy the prescription, the pharmacist fills it in the order it was received, ensures the prescription is correct, double checks all the details, scans the prescription into a bucket, inserts the prescription into a cabinet that sorts prescriptions electronically with barcodes for organizational control, and then it’s ready for pickup.
Meanwhile, there’s a line of people dropping off prescriptions at the window and waiting in the lobby, and other prescriptions coming in by fax and electronically.
Captain Michael Hsu, 30th Medical Support Squadron chief of pharmacy operations, is double checking every prescription before it gets released. And by double checking, I mean he has to ensure the information provided by the patient and doctor are both correct, verify the dosage and usage directions, and ensure there won’t be any drug interactions between multiple prescriptions. He goes through this process for every single prescription.
"Much of the patient safety work the pharmacy does happens in the background and often goes unnoticed,” says Lt. Col. Pedro Burton-Taylor, 30th MDSS commander. “The pharmacy performs numerous quality control checks while filling each prescription because the value of providing the right medication to the right patient cannot be overstated.”
Major Benjamin Crandall, 30th MDSS pharmacy flight commander added that “although we are trying to do things as fast as we can, patient safety is always going to be our number one priority since we are the last stop before you are going to be using that medication.”
While some pharmacy staff are filling and checking prescriptions, others stay just as busy. Every day, the pharmacy has to do a controlled substance inventory that can take anywhere from one to three hours.
Everything must be accounted for, and any slight discrepancy will be reported up the chain of command. It’s quite the process if one pill gets caught up in the cotton ball or ends up on the floor. God forbid it ends up in the trash — I remember dumpster diving for a pair of retainers that I left in a napkin at a burger joint when I was 15. Never again I hope.
The pharmacy also has to report if the manufacturer mistakenly slipped or shorted one too many pills in the bottle. Once the inventory is complete, there’s still plenty of work to be done — manning the windows for customer service, re-stocking the shelves and machines, running prescriptions over to the Scriptcenter, and responding to any other mission essential tasks that need to be completed throughout the day.
The work ethic and attention to detail that each pharmacist and technician demonstrated gave me a new appreciation for the pharmacy and their mission here on base. As our pharmacy is constantly working on innovative ways to be more efficient with their time and ours, there are a few ways you can help expedite the process next time you need a prescription filled.
The easiest way is by calling in your refill prescriptions a few days in advance! When you’re running low, it’s simple and quick — just call 805-605-0200 and follow the automated prompts. You can also visit https://www.tricareonline.com/portal/page/portal/TricareOnline/Portal to submit refills.
If your doctor has submitted a new prescription via fax or electronically, call 805-606-7440 to activate your prescription as soon as possible so the pharmacy can fill it before you arrive.
You can download the app called Express Scripts — yes, there’s an app for everything nowadays! With this application, you can renew prescriptions, check your order status, claims and payment history, get medical alerts, and check for drug interactions.
Last but not least, ring the bell! If you’re waiting and there is no one at the window, it is likely the pharmacists and technicians are in the back completing at least three other tasks at one time. It’s not rude to ring the bell — they want to know you’re there and get you in and out in a timely manner.
It’s easy to think about how busy and overwhelmed we may be while we are waiting in line for a prescription with not enough time in the day to get things done. But, after spending a few hours in our pharmacy, I can assure you that we have one of the most efficient groups of pharmacists and technicians working their hardest to get us back to our mission. Try to keep in mind the hundreds of prescriptions that are being filled alongside yours, and the different ways you can be proactive to shorten wait times.
This week, Oct. 16th-20th, is National Pharmacy week. A large trifold is set up in the lobby of the medical building. Stop by to meet the staff and play some pharmacy related games. And, don’t forget to thank our pharmacists and technicians for keeping our safety as their number one priority!