A Judgment Call
Walgreens Pharmacy has served me for years, been a partner in my medical care, and been a friend at times when I felt as if the entire system was against me simply because I live with pain every day. (I have also been a long time customer of the entire store) This connection has been built over many years, and as with any part of the management of my pain or other medical issue, is very important. I knew the various staff, I was comfortable. It is sad to lose that.
I am not a 'pharmacy-hopper' or a 'doctor-shopper'. I create long-lasting partnerships in my pain management, including the pharmacy at which I choose to fill prescriptions. After decades of spine and knee surgeries, various procedures, trials and novel treatments, all performed by respected surgeons (Neuro and Ortho) Pain Management physicians and the well-known clinics they practice in; I am a credible and compliant patient with a medical history starting with severe trauma going back to my teens.
One thing that does change over the years is employment, health status, etc., and I have been a customer with various insurances, and also a cash pay customer. One year I paid about $12,000 cash for prescriptions, and I did not spread that love around to other pharmacies, that was all for Walgreens. Ouch.
So why am I leaving Walgreens pharmacy?
Let's start with the phone call.
I was returning a call from the Walgreens pharmacist who was refilling some medications I had submitted via the convenient text & email refill alerts they offer. He had said on the message that there was a "problem with one of the medications" and needed to talk to me. I thought I may know what he was referring to with one of the refills, and was shocked to find out what the 'problem' really was.
Asking what he wanted to talk to me about, the pharmacist said something about a new Walgreens policy regarding pain medications and that he couldn't refill the Soma prescription.
Soma, or Carisoprodol, is a muscle relaxer. Granted, it definitely helps with the deep pain and the movement restriction of severe muscle spasms (ergo why it has been prescribed to me for years) but I beg to differ on his wording. I asked him if he could repeat what he had said.
"We at Walgreens in an effort to protect ourselves and our customers, have a policy regarding certain medications and in all good faith, I cannot dispense this medication at this, or any other Walgreens." I was a bit taken aback and asked him to please repeat himself, and I grabbed a pen & paper. He stated this again, and was definitely reading this statement off a paper. I asked him if this meant that no Walgreens now would fill Soma, and the pharmacist read the same thing to me. He chose to do this instead of talking to me like a person. He was completely ignoring my pertinent, non-argumentative questions. This was very aggravating and I felt it necessary to be 100% clear on what the pharmacist was attempting to get across to me.
I said that I need him to clarify this. He began a another script-reading and I stopped him. I told him I am a nurse, I am not arguing with him, I just needed to understand exactly what he was telling me. Had Walgreens implemented a new rule that certain medications were not to be filled? That doesn't make much monetary sense. Was there some problem with my profile on their system?
Or was this a judgment call?
He refused to speak to me on a human level, and began to re-read the same thing. At this point, I realized there was no getting through to this Pharmacist on the phone. I asked him for his name, and he gave me his first name, which I already had from his voice mail. I asked for his full name, and he hesitated, saying, "I don't usually give my last name", and proceeded to tell me. I asked him to spell it, and he did. I thanked him and hung up. I was never angry or rude, I was calm and respectful.
Speechless, I began writing down everything that was said. I looked his name up on the licensing board, and he looked to be related directly to Walgreens. My friend then called the store and asked for the name of the store manager, who was not in at the time. The assistant manager was eager to help, and gave the name of the Pharmacy manager when asked. The Pharmacy manager is one and the same as the script-reading Pharmacist. Helpful assistant manager asked if he could do anything else, and at the time, that was all that was needed.
Recently, Carisoprodol was introduced into the DEA Schedule as a Schedule IV. After January 11, 2012, Carisoprodol prescriptions are limited to 6 fills per prescription. (Initial plus 5 refills) I was aware of this change and my doctor's office also, letting me know last year that the doctor would need to write a new prescription to comply with the refill limits due to this change. (The Walgreens I've gone to for years also alerted me to this) Nothing else changed in the filling or refilling of this medication that affected me in any adverse way.
Unable to find anything else that would clue me into why this one Pharmacist refused to refill this medication, I decided to go in person, and meet face to face. We had spoken on the phone late, and I went in to his pharmacy the next day. Unfortunately, he was not in, and would return after the weekend. The Pharmacist there was not contracted with Walgreens, and was one of the nicest people I have met lately. Smiling, he answered what he could of my many questions, letting me know that he could not fill the Soma because of what the other Pharmacist had done, and he was unable to override the manager. I expressed my frustration with the pharmacy manager including his lack of communication skills and his inability to just talk to me and explain the situation. It was recommended that the prescription be transferred across the street to another pharmacy, I agreed, and that was that. The Soma was filled with no problem. Yet I was not finished with this. Too many unknowns. I dislike unknowns in my own medical care.
A few days later, it was time to fill my monthly pain medication. I have filled this same med at Walgreens Pharmacy for years, just as I have with my Soma. I decided to take the security prescription to the same Pharmacist that had denied my Soma prescription. I felt this would most likely not be a simple fill like usual, as this med is a Schedule II. I was not looking for a challenge, I was hoping to simply meet the Pharmacist and let him see me, hear me, and understand that I am a stable and compliant patient, not a drug-seeker, or anything close to that. If that was his reasoning for denying to refill the Soma, he made that call before he ever left me a voicemail that something was wrong with one of my prescriptions. I could have easily filled this medication at the Walgreens by my physician's office where I have been a customer for years.
Again I went in, and again, the Pharmacy manager was not there, and again, the really nice Pharmacist that doesn't work for Walgreens was. I had to laugh when handing him the prescription for my pain medication saying, "I imagine this will not go over very well considering what happened with my Soma." He had more information this visit about the new rules that required the pharmacy to contact my physician, who then needed to write very detailed notes about my pain, if 'weaker' meds had been tried out, etc., and that this documentation would take a few days, leaving me without medication during this time. I still wanted to speak to the manager. My back was in severe pain and I was unable and unwilling to make a third trip back. I realized then that I was not meant to meet the Pharmacist that had denied me a medication that allows my body some freedom of movement, some sort of help for the severe muscle spasms I have all day long. I realized filling any type of medication related to pain was going to be a problem here. I also realized that this Walgreens Pharmacy was not one that I wanted to be a customer of. (Excluding the non-contracted Pharmacist from all of this-- he was so helpful, with excellent customer service skills and would be a perfect Pharmacy manager).
It didn't take long for me to decide that because of this one Pharmacist's judgment call, who has never met me, who only has a computer screen to 'know' me through, who never said, "why don't you come in tomorrow and I can explain this to you in person"; because of that I am now done with Walgreens Pharmacy altogether.
I recently moved just a few miles further south, and the Walgreens I speak of (with the Pharmacist and his interesting customer service style) would have gotten all of my business, both in the Pharmacy, and in the store. It is convenient in location, it is the same familiar layout, all the little things that go with a place frequently shopped. I did my best to try and establish a new and hopeful long-term relationship with the Pharmacist. No attempt was made to contact me after I had gone in, and I made every effort to speak to him in person.
After my experiences in both nursing and as a patient, I understand there are some people that simply won't budge, who refuse to open up, and are all too quick to judge. Decades of Pain Management have taught me to not waste time in any part of the treatment of my daily pain. Let's all remember: I live with severe spinal pain. I am the patient here. I am not the nurse, the manager, or the lawyer who must plead their case.
When Walgreens Corporate receives my letter including my blogs address so they can read this, will they care? Take note? Respond? Or am I just a person that really doesn't matter to them, even if I am a long-time loyal customer? However it all shakes out, it took only one, one employee, one Pharmacist, one Pharmacy Manager; to quickly bring down what many other Walgreens Pharmacy employees have worked hard to build with me. Tsk-tsk, Mr. B., you should be ashamed.
Oh, and when I filled my meds across the street, it definitely was personal.