I was customer #5 at the neighbourhood pharmacy this morning. I wanted to get a ‘herhalingsrecept’ (repeat prescription) for my brand new and ridiculously expensive medication for treating my high cholesterol levels. I have to shell out my own money first before it can be shouldered by my insurance, and getting the reimbursement requires filling and sending paper forms. Also these days, I have to request medication, even my insulin shots, a week in advance. Otherwise, the pharmacy can’t guarantee availability. So, I dutifully proceeded to the pharmacy at 8 a.m. to make sure I get my repeat prescription. I thought it was strange to not have gotten it right away the last time, but I wrote that off to my forgetfulness and to the pharmacist’s busy schedule.
My turn came up and I explained myself to the pharmacist. I said I wondered why I didn’t get the repeat prescription, and how can I get it. “Then it’s not meant to be ordered again”, the pharmacist knowingly replied.
I gave her a blank look; luckily, my brain was jolted enough from its sleepy state to manage a retort, “But that’s the second time I ordered it. That means the original prescription stated that it’s meant to be used regularly — monthly in my case.”
To which she replied, “Daar ik ga ik geen gesprek voeren,” (“I won’t go into that discussion”).
Ah, the magic words that would compel me to stop asking and accept the facts of life. It was meant to be the end point of a flowchart, the conclusion of a Q&A triage. Although having grown up with tyrants in government has taught me that silence is argument carried on by other means, I luckily managed to also develop a questioning nature and an ability for indirect resistance. So I skipped the step ‘No discussion’ in the flowchart and created a new flow. I told the pharmacist that my new medication was not meant as a one-off.
“Well”, she continued, “if it was meant to be repeatedly issued, then it would have said so in the prescription.”
“But you have the prescription,” I replied. “So, you want me to look up the original prescription?” she asked, waiting for a reply. I thought it was a rhetoric question. Of course, I’d like to see the original prescription, because it would really be strange for my internist to have just given me a one-off medication when I am being handled for Type 1 Diabetes and high cholesterol is not something you’d want in the mix. Should I draw her the flowchart for my blood tests and additional hospital check-ups that are now required to make sure my cholesterol levels are being managed?
“You know, if it were meant to be issued to you again, it would’ve said so in the prescription.” Deja vu. “But don’t expect me to be able to show you the original prescription now because I’m already piled high with other prescriptions to work through.”
I replied good-naturedly, “Of course not. Fortunately, I don’t need it right away. But I want to make sure I get it in time because I’m supposed to order it from you guys a week in advance.” This set her at ease, telling me that she’ll try to do it within the day. She added, “Maybe it was a prescription that was meant to be repeated once only.”
I didn’t know about that. And this is exactly why having a conversation is important. It really doesn’t solve my problem directly — perhaps I need to go back to my internist and ask for a new prescription — but at least, it has shed some light as to why I didn’t get the repeat prescription right away. It has helped me understand the whole prescription process in the Netherlands a bit better. From there, I can address that hump in the process (inconvenience and ineffectiveness of having to ask for a new perscription) and perhaps be able to fix it. In any case, having gone into further discussion with the pharmacist helped me uncover new information that is relevant for me as a diabetic, a mother, and as a resident of this country.
Listening and talking to ones customers lies at the heart of being a social business. I know procedures are in place to make sure things run smoothly and efficiently — like with the case of our dear pharmacist, who only wanted to get through her list of things to do — but sometimes, this isn’t the effective thing to do. If we didn’t get around to talking, I would’ve left frustrated and mad at the pharmacy and my internist, and might have gone and rant on my social networks. It would’ve cost me positive energy and my time, because I would need to find out myself what went wrong. It would’ve confirmed to my perception that information concerning health/ pharmacies/medicine/doctors are confusing and not meant to not see the light of day, and thus adding to my mistrust of such institutions.
Pharmacies need to review their processes and see if they have listening platforms in place; and how true dialogue can be scaled to the level of daily work for their employees. For this they have to prepare themselves internally — look at workflows, cull insights from their workforce, and make sure that social leadership is present and supportive of the changes that a social business would require. In this case, real face-to-face contact points are crucial, but they should also find ways how to foster conversation in other settings, such as online and social. How can they distribute information more effectively so that customers don’t end up being blind-sided due to lack of information and being unable to make good decisions? How can they help educate us so that we don’t only get to know about something when a problem arises? At the end of the day, addressing customers’ needs directly uplifts and benefits how employees function. And sometimes, it’s not about having the right answers right away that will appease a frustrated customer — a genuine conversation is the first step to resolving a problem together.