Frequently Asked Questions in the Pharmacy and How to Answer Them


by Cassi Prosper, CPhT

In the retail setting, questions from your patients will often pertain to accessing, refilling, and dispensing prescriptions. It is always important to gather as much information as possible, including patient information (ex, name, birthdate), prescription number if available, name and strength of the medication, and a good call back number. 

You will commonly receive calls from patients asking if their prescription is ready. Depending on the sophistication of your prescription processing software, the answer to this question may be easily accessible with a few keystrokes or may require you to physically check the will-call area to see if the prescription is ready. 

You will also commonly be asked to refill prescriptions. It is important to have the patient wait while you check the status of the prescription. If the prescription is out of refills or has expired, you must inform the patient that a new script is required. If the prescription is current, it may be filled. Another frequent question is, "is my prescription ready." You will have to follow your specific pharmacy workflow and procedure and inform your patient of the minimum wait time, asking them when they would prefer to pick up their prescription. 

In the inpatient setting, pharmacy technicians are often triaging incoming calls from multiple healthcare providers. You may frequently receive calls about missing medications, and the technician's problem-solving can determine the flow of medication distribution. Having a notepad near you is important, and, if possible, picking up the phone near a computer so you can quickly look up the order in question. For patient safety, you always want to investigate before resending a medication. You want to be sure that the dose has not already been given. You also want to consider the cost, avoid waste, and consider the potential time required if compounding is needed. Some medications require refrigeration, and many care providers don't always think to look in the unit's refrigerator, so it is essential to lead the provider to look in all possible locations. It is a good practice to provide reminders for nursing staff. A note in the medication room reminding nurses to look in the refrigerator can assist in decreasing unnecessary questions. 

The electronic health record is an invaluable source of information. These systems can help determine when the dose was dispensed or if the patient might have been transferred to a new unit. If the patient recently transferred, inform staff of the transfer and the patient's last known location. If unable to locate, then you should re-dispense the dose. When medication cost is a concern or if the medication is unavailable to re-dispense, you should then discuss further options with your pharmacist. 

Often pharmacy technicians are the face of pharmacy. What can we do when confronted with questions outside the professional scope of practice? Our knowledge of operations and medications can often assist pharmacists in making clinical judgments. For instance, we might receive calls from care providers asking about the compatibility of multiple medications or IV solutions. One of our roles is gathering more information in a reliable format that can be crucial in assisting pharmacists in delivering fair and balanced information. 

The pharmacist often depends on technicians providing patient identifiers(such as the patient's name and medical Record Number) and the medications or IV solutions in question. And as with all information, it is crucial to clarify and read back information for accuracy. 

More experienced technicians may have a more comprehensive knowledge of operational procedures and resources that may be available. Such as Trissel's or Lexicomp to support pharmacists in the decision-making process as a resource, presenting information to answer the compatibility question. 

Ultimately the key to triaging all questions that you may receive as a pharmacy technician is to utilize your problem-solving skills and the resources available to you, and when in doubt, double-check with a senior technician or pharmacist.