By Katelyn O’Leary
Sometimes I think the worst experience in the world for a pain patient (and others) is being placed on hold for a pharmacy or doctor’s office. The cheerful music they play seems to mock your need to speak to a human being instead of an automated system. And when you finally do get someone on the line, rarely is your concern reflected back to you. A bored voice on the other line tells you to hold or that they can’t help you.
I spend around 15 hours each week dealing with pharmacies, insurance issues, and doctor’s offices. Here’s an example:
Doctor / Specialist’s office
Me: I’m calling because CVS said they did not receive a refill order for my prescription.
Medical assistant / nurse: We faxed it over last night. But we will send it again.
Me: They said they didn’t receive anything.
On the flip-side:
Me: I am calling regarding my [insert medication name] refill?
Pharmacy: We haven’t received the insurance verification form from your doctor’s office.
Me: But they said they faxed it over to you!
Pharmacy: [bored voice] Ma’am you’re going to have to call them and have them fax it over.
Me: Why didn’t you call me to tell me there was an issue with my refill?
Pharmacy [confused and irritated]: We don’t do that.
These are real conversations I’ve had with doctor’s offices and CVS. The bottom line is this: communication between pharmacies and doctors is unbelievably bad, to the point of negligence. Exhausted or overwhelmed by the sheer volume of patients, pharmacies are not in the business of caring or following up. They are only interested in the fiscal bottom line.
And there’s this:
Last year I went to seven different pharmacies in Los Angeles to fill a Percocet prescription! Each pharmacy told me they didn’t have enough pills. I went home finally and looked up pharmacies to call instead. Driving is extremely painful for me so I try limit my driving as much as possible. I called five more pharmacies and they all said they had no Percocet in stock. I asked the pharmacy employee how this could be possible. What she said next absolutely astounded me.
“We lie to people on the phone because we only get a certain amount of pain medications a month and we don’t want to give out the number and have an increase in customers. Also we don’t want to get knocked over (robbed).”
When she finished, I was so angry I could feel the phone shaking in my hand. As I yelled my head off about how detrimental, insensitive, and medically unethical this secret company mantra was, my friend had to take the phone out of my hand.
The number of people that need these medications is astronomically larger than the number who don’t and pursue them for illegal purposes. I heard a statistic at the CRPS conference in Long Beach that 99 out of 100 chronic pain patients who use their opioids as prescribed do not become addicted. But because of the actions of a few, pharmacies often treat legitimate pain patients as drug seekers.
While I think many pharmacists care, the people they work for do not appear to have the patient’s best interest at heart.
When I told the same pharmacy tech that driving is difficult for me and I need to be kept informed in order to plan my travel, she repeated again that it was not in their job description to keep me informed beyond just a “your refill is ready” text message.
Patients cannot and should not be the “liaisons” between pharmacies and doctors. Spending hours on the phone because the tech couldn’t be bothered or because your doctor’s office is swamped with calls isn’t conducive to one’s health.
Ultimately patients have to take their medical care into their own hands. But when we are fighting flare-ups and severe illness, we depend on our pharmacies and doctors to take care of us. We need to return to that ideal, instead of having patients spend hours on the phone each week fighting for their medications and care.
Editor’s Note; Katelyn O’Leary lives in Los Angeles and works in the entertainment industry. She was injured playing sports in college and has CRPS. She is frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.