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Play to win

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You are the model customer: you have filled in the back of your prescription perfectly and wait patiently for it to be dispensed because you understand how busy the dispensary can get. You don’t mind waiting because it gives you time to covertly observe your surroundings and, dare I say it, check out the competition. When you receive your prescription you anticipate what the pharmacist is going to ask you and the advice you are going to receive and, depending on what mood you’re in, you might reveal you are a pharmacist and take your medicines with little or no interaction. But sometimes you play along a little longer, engaging with the pharmacist and listening to what he or she says without disclosing your day job. This is what I call the secret pharmacist game.

When I play, I am interested to hear the counselling I receive on my prescribed medicines and I do this for a number of reasons. I want to check my own understanding of the medicine and perhaps identify any gaps in my learning. I might genuinely need advice since I am, after all, the patient in this interaction. But a small part of me is using the opportunity to check up on my peers and the quality of the service that is being provided elsewhere in the profession.
 
I played the game recently when collecting a prescription from a well known multiple. I was impressed by the promotion of services the pharmacy provided, the friendliness of the staff and the overall great working order of the dispensary. After punching in my pin to pay for my items I was preparing myself to play the pharmacist card and decline counselling — I was in rush. However, my medicines were just handed to me in a bag with a polite “have a nice day” uttered as the pharmacist looked at the computer screen. Clearly the game was over.

You do not need me to point out the flaws in this interaction. I was disappointed — not only with my peer, who had made no attempt whatsoever to counsel me, but in myself for just turning on my heels and leaving without a word.

Yet I’ve been questioning what I should have done. Ought I have played the game a little longer and asked some questions to check the extent of her knowledge? To me, this seems deceitful and pointless. Should I have chastised her, playing the pharmacist card after all and passing down judgment on her competence as a pharmacist? Needlessly confrontational and, arguably, not my place. I could report it to the pharmacy manager or make a formal complaint. In any case, I can’t help but feel I should have said something there and then, but I wasn’t sure what to say or more importantly how I might have gone about it.

After another disappointing Which? report on the quality of medicines advice provided by pharmacies, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the General Pharmaceutical Council have pledged to take action. Indeed, our professional and regulatory bodies have a huge part to play in this. Nevertheless, all pharmacists should feel empowered to challenge poor practice and I feel there should be professional guidance to support this.

I call upon all of you to play the secret pharmacist game — not with the intention to catch out your peers but perhaps to examine the quality of service our profession is providing and flag up areas for improvement from the ground up. Surely this is a game that could make everyone a winner.

Maureen O’Sullivan is assistant editor of Clinical Pharmacist.

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