Why are pharmacies so slow?

I stayed home from Church with Jacob today. He was running a fever and complaining of a sore throat. When he still wasn't feeling any better this evening I took him to KidsCare in Bountiful. The quick test for strep came back (in the words of the doctor) "very positive." She wrote a prescription for Amoxicillin, which we took to Walgreens (one of the only pharmacies open around here on a Sunday evening).

I've never encountered any pharmacy [in America] that I'd consider really fast (< 5 minutes) or efficient. Today when we went through the Walgreens drive thru, the pharmacist told us they'd have it ready in 25-30 minutes and to come back then.

There were no other cars in line & no patients visible inside. Why does it take them so long to fill one small bottle? It's a liquid, so it ought to be easier to measure than counting out individual pills. Given that it is the season for strep (and the standardized dosage doctors prescribe for kids) you'd think they could even have bottles pre-filled.

Is there some law or industry norm that says all pharmacies must be slow and make sick patients wait? It's not like Amoxicillin is a hard narcotic where they might want to double check the validity of the prescription. So what do they spend all that time doing?

Maybe Paul will find out when he starts his pharmacy program in Georgia later this year...

—Michael A. Cleverly


  1. Drugmonkey wrote (at Mon, 07 Jan 2008, 03:42):

Yes, there is a law. Few people know about the federal government mandate regarding prescription wait times. In 2004 Congress passed and George Bush signed an act requiring at least a 20 minute wait time for a customer to receive a prescription. The reason given was that if sick people were kept waiting for their medicine, they would be less likely to think about the mess in Iraq, giving the administration a free hand to continue the war indefinitely.

I usually spend the 19 minutes not involved in actually filling your prescription surfing the internet for pornography. I would really like to not have to do this, but the law is the law you know....

I actually had a bit of a blogosphere hit writing about this very subject. Take a look and see Paul's future: http://drugnazi.blogspot.com/2006/08/i-realize-today-ive-done-you.html

  1. Camilla wrote (at Mon, 07 Jan 2008, 05:19):

Walgreens especially is notorious for being slow. I don't know why.

  1. John Cowan wrote (at Mon, 07 Jan 2008, 12:33):

I'm on very good terms with my pharmacists, and my experience is that what takes time is not dispensing but using the computer: checking and updating my records, verifying against the insurance company's system (this is about the slowest single item), updating the inventory for the number of pills dispensed. If your prescription is on paper, it also has to be transcribed by hand. There may also be a queue of called-in scripts that have to be filled, and there are background tasks like talking to suppliers that also consume time.

Finally, it's better customer service to predict a long delay and than execute faster than predicted than the converse. I often get told "20 minutes" and have my meds in ten.

  1. Walmart Pharmacy Technician wrote (at Thu, 29 Dec 2011, 21:06):

Being a Pharmacy Technician at our local Walmart, I can explain why it takes so long to get your medication through the system. At the drop off window we receive your paper prescription (meanwhile doctors from the many nearby clinics and emergency rooms are sending us prescriptions electronically from their offices for patients that will soon arrive)...we work with the patient to make sure all of the correct address, identification, allergy, and insurance information is verified...we must be very careful because a pharmacy is no place for even a typo. We review the prescription for validity and we also scan a copy of your prescription into our system. All that was done while you are at the window...add in the how much is this going to cost me and that adds more time...when you leave the window we transcribe the information from the prescription into our input system (if there were people behind you, this is delayed as we need to take the next person in line and do the inputs between people and when the line is gone. After our input/transcription, the pharmacist does a 4 point check to make sure everything is correct and that the patient can get the medication (if there is anything - and I mean ANYTHING out of place, the pharmacist has to call the doctor to verify...have you ever tried to contact a doctor on a dime?...we wait in line too! If your insurance company rejects your prescription, the Pharmacist and Technician have to do the legwork to help YOU get your prescription paid for...telephone hold times can go up to an hour...dont forget your prescription is not the only one that might need this) Once the 4 point check clears it is released to filling. Filling is the 2 minute job...the fast and easy part (that is if we enough of what you need to cover what was prescribed, anything out of normal might need to be ordered - and even than that makes the wait time the next day or up to a week). If we dont have it we have to contact you - more phone time that further delays others behind you. Once filled the Pharmacist has to check and sometimes double check everything all over again...this isnt for kicks....its what they are required to do by law. Think about what it would be like if your medications were handed to you slapped together like a McDonalds value meal...think of what the errors would look like and the many friends and family members you might have to bury because of wrong medications. The system is the way it is to protect YOU! By all means, we would love to get your medications through as fast as possible. We arent sitting on them behind that counter. We have nothing to gain by holding anything back. Next time you get your medications from your local pharmacy, know that extreme care was taken on your behalf to make sure you are getting the correct medications at the best possible price we can possibly offer. Give your pharmacy time to do their job because standing there complaining delays us even more. Of all of this, I left out all of the other tasks within a pharmacy such as disinfecting work surfaces, keeping the area uncluttered and clean, filing, ordering, inventory, hazardous waste management, and keeping other supplies stocked. Not to mention the many tasks a pharmacist has to do.

  1. Alex wrote (at Tue, 18 Feb 2014, 01:29):

Sorry but I call BS. You know how long I wait for my prescription to be filled in Germany? I wait in front of the desk for maybe a minute if he cant find the exact one prescribed and has to see which other brand of the same medicine hes got. Otherwise less. And you know how many people are involved? All of O N E.

Back here in Canada I wait 15 minutes to get a damn tube of cream. Its even sitting right there and 4 people are standing around, yakking.

  1. FuturePharmacist wrote (at Fri, 06 Jun 2014, 09:25):

This truly upsets me that you think a medication order should be ready in less than 5 minutes. I don't understand why patients with no medical knowledge believe they know better. For God's sake pharmacists are DRUG INFORMATION SPECIALIST. So unless you want a terrible drug-drug interaction or a drug-disease interaction or one of a million other severe but preventable adverse drug events to occur I suggest giving the pharmacy staff all the time they need to prepare your script. As for you question on pre-preparing amoxicillin there's a reason why we are pharmacists and you are not. I could go on about the pharmacology behind why we don't premix any suspensions but it would probably make no sense to you. So to sum up, let the pharmacists do their jobs. If you could wait an hour to be seated at a restaurant why can't you wait for your medications to be properly checked, maybe you have a suicide mission?!

  1. Ron Anderson wrote (at Sat, 13 Sep 2014, 09:52):

I have taken prescription's to Walmart and was told to come back in 30min wasn't filled still wasn't filled next day I got my prescription back took it to Walgreen's was filled in 20min's there's noway I'll ever go to Walmart drug store again and the people that work in the pharmacy are VERY RUDE

  1. gcgg wrote (at Tue, 14 Oct 2014, 13:39):

The bottle has to be reconstituted. If they pre mix them they will go bad. Plus they have to bill your insurance, print the label and do this for the 10 people ahead of you

  1. G Sanchez wrote (at Fri, 12 Feb 2016, 14:56):

I was in the military for 21 years and if it took us as long to get something done as it does pharmacies we'd all be speaking Russian. For Petes sakes it's a business. So why not emphasize customer service and efficiency vs running it like a post office.

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