When it rains, it pours.
I’m convinced the person who coined that phrase had young children. In the past few weeks, my household has been hit with a perfect storm of stomach bugs, colds, and teething that has left my husband and me battling to keep the ship afloat. The nights have been long and exasperating, and it’s no small miracle that we’ve managed to feed, dress, and bathe our 10-month-old twins while still conserving enough energy to function at work.
Last week, however, we hit the boiling point. After yet another trip to the pediatrician, my daughter was prescribed a corticosteroid for her bronchiolitis. We were told to start treatment right away, and since it was already evening, we knew we had a short window before she went to sleep.
After confirming that the medication was in stock, Dan (my husband) went to the pharmacy to pick it up. But there was a holdup. Although they had plenty of the medication available, it wasn’t ready. The pharmacist hadn’t received approval from the insurance company for the billing code, so her solution was to make him wait until they called back. With the window rapidly closing — and my daughter getting crankier by the minute — Dan asked the pharmacist to call the insurance company again, and if it still wasn’t approved, we’d just pay for the medication out of pocket.
When he finally arrived home, I had the infant medication dispenser ready and was about to give her the medication. But when I checked the label and saw that the instructions were different from those provided by our pediatrician, my head nearly exploded. I wanted to call the pharmacy and unleash the Jersey girl fury reserved for such occasions, but that would have to wait. My first priority was to call the doctor, find out how to proceed, and then give Scarlett her medication and put her to bed.
As it turns out, the pharmacy had printed the wrong instructions on the bottle. So in addition to making us wait for approval on a medication we had ordered in the past, the pharmacy staff failed to double-check the instructions. All I could think about was the horrific experience Dennis Quaid’s family went through with their twins.
Thankfully, our situation was far less serious. Still, it was scary, and we knew we had to take action. But because it was late and we were emotionally (and physically) drained, we decided to wait until the next day.
It turned right to be the right decision.
Instead of firing off an angry rant, we put together an email that described our experience while also asking for an explanation and inquiring as to what steps would be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again. It conveyed our concern and frustration, but did so in a way that was rational and purposeful.
I didn’t expect a response, so when I received a call from a pharmacy representative, I was surprised. He wanted to verify a few facts (date of the incident, Rx number) so that a proper investigation would be conducted, and he also wanted to apologize — not just for the dosing error, but for the poor service. “What I can’t understand is why the pharmacist didn’t just provide you with enough medication to get through the night while we worked out the problem with the insurance company,” he said. “Especially with an infant.”
“Exactly,” I said.
He seemed genuinely upset, which I appreciated. And then he thanked me for notifying them about the incident. “We really appreciate you coming to us instead of just telling everyone you know not to use our pharmacy or posting something on Facebook.”
That’s the part that really stuck with me. I won’t lie; I thought about going to Yelp or a similar site and lambasting the pharmacy in question. But in this particular situation, cooler — or, perhaps more accurately, more tired — heads prevailed.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Social media has made it easy for consumers and patients to notify thousands of people of a bad experience within minutes, or even seconds. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and Yelp are shifting the balance of power and giving patients more of it than they had in the past. And with this new dynamic comes a need for more vigilance and awareness on the part of hospitals and physician offices. Leaders need to know what’s being written, blogged, and Tweeted about their organization online, and must have a response plan in place.
And when a patient does contact you about a bad experience, be prepared to take action, and be apologetic.
Otherwise, you could have a perfect storm of your own.