CROSSING THE RUBICON
Bill Brown Blog April 7, 2021
For as long as anyone can remember, whenever a pharmacist is depicted on television during, say the latest CBC Marketplace scam expose, or other TV news story, the pharmacist is shown counting pills using a blue tray and a spatula. Five, ten, fifteen all the way up to a hundred. This is what the public has seen repeatedly, and this image has only served to reinforce the role of the pharmacist as a purveyor of drugs, a druggist…a descriptive term that not that long ago was in common use.
In the background, the TV viewer sees what is either a Shoppers Drug Mart, or a Rexall, or other Big Pharmacy Retail (BPR) setting, which is where the consumer usually encounters a pharmacist today, as 85% of pharmacy is now dominated by BPR. Walk into any BPR setting and the pharmacist is somewhere in the back staring at a computer screen or counting pills, or checking prescriptions filled by technicians…stacks of prescriptions. If it’s a Costco, marvel at how line ups as long as 20 or 30 people are common, taking advantage of the $3.99 dispensing fee.
This ‘blue tray thing’ has always made pharmacists cringe. This is especially so for recent graduates who have spent six years and $150,000 to gain a PharmD. Physicians, conversely, are always shown as talking gravely about the pandemic, and public health types (though unelected) have great power of the lives of millions. Their image has only been even more enhanced as powerful and intelligent during the pandemic.
Well, there is some good news and some bad news. First the good news. This blue tray image is quickly fading. The bad news is that the new image is not much better in terms of depicting a pharmacist’s true value to the healthcare universe.
The new image depicts a pharmacist jabbing a needle into someone’s arm. Countless times, over and over, as the Covid-19 pandemic dominates the news, the camera pans over to a pharmacist wearing a white coat and sticking a syringe into an arm. Some pharmacists have taken this new role so seriously that this is primarily what they do now. A whole pharmacist’s shift in a BPR setting could involve doing nothing but providing inoculations of the Covid-19 vaccine, one after another.
Unarguably, the importance of vaccinating as many people as possible with the Covid-19 vaccine cannot be overstated. The fact that 95% of all Canadians live within 5 kms of a pharmacy makes pharmacies an ideal distribution point for mass inoculations. Key word…distribution.
At a time when the internet (read Amazon) is eating larger and larger chunks of the retail sector, anything that BPR can do to create instore traffic is enthusiastically embraced…the more opportunities to sell high margin merchandise is greatly enhanced when the customer is in the store. Jeff Bezos cannot (yet) offer vaccines on Amazon Prime.
Let us not understate the importance of contributing to reducing the impact of the pandemic on society. If pharmacy, or pharmacists (the two things are different) can make even a small positive difference, than clearly this should be done.
Just keep in mind that the simple technical act of jabbing a needle into an arm, (which is more often associated with nurses or paramedics or technicians) may not be the most accurate depiction of the education or knowledge that pharmacists have invested so dearly to achieve. At some point pharmacy association will need to address exactly what this contribution is. Changing Pharmacist Awareness Month to Pharmacy Appreciation Month was not a good start, and a month is an awfully long time.
A picture IS worth a thousand words.