Have you ever found yourself fantasizing at the pharmacy about what it would be like to have a break from work? To sit and finish a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in peace and quiet before heading back out to your responsibilities?
This could be real life for Illinois pharmacists.
But why now? In 2016 the Chicago Tribune conducted a secret investigation of pharmacies, sending three reporters to test 255 pharmacies in the Chicago area. The investigation had a relatively simple premise: the reporters would deliberately seek prescriptions with dangerous drug combinations to see if pharmacists were able to detect the interactions and warn the patient. About 52% of the prescriptions were provided with no word of the interaction to the patient. In the aftermath, Wal-mart, CVS, and Walgreens all began to design policies to improve patient safety in their stores nationwide while the state government began to investigate steps it could take in protecting patients.
Fast-forward three years. As of October 2019, CVS has upgraded its computer alert system, Walgreens provided additional training to its employees, and Wal-mart, Costco, and Kmart announced that they had taken similar steps toward preventing medication errors. The Illinois government also just announced the draft of a bill that aims to ensure that pharmacists receive one uninterrupted 30-minute meal break, and an additional 15-minute break if they work six continuous hours. The bill also stipulates that pharmacists who work a full 12-hour shift would receive an additional 15-minute break.
The proposed bill would require pharmacies to maintain accurate records of breaks and would also penalize pharmacies for rushing pharmacists during critical duties like reviewing patient drug histories, administering immunizations, answering questions, and verifying prescriptions. If an infraction is committed, the pharmacy, pharmacist, and pharmacist-in-charge would all be at risk of receiving fines and written warnings which are issued online and cannot be expunged. If a pharmacist repeatedly violates these guidelines, they could risk being put on probation or even facing license revocation.
To assist with covering for pharmacist breaks, the government task force created to investigate the concerns raised by the Chicago Tribune has recommended putting more responsibilities on pharmacy technicians. While not included in this draft of the bill, the task force has discussed assigning Technicians duties like administering vaccinations and immunizations (after passing a nationally certified program) and transferring prescriptions between pharmacies. While only an unofficial recommendation at this juncture, this has sparked significant discussion in the responsibilities of a pharmacy technician in this state.
Members of the task force feel that it is a huge step in preventing errors and ensuring that pharmacists can improve their mental well-being, but critics feel it isn’t enough. If the bill were to pass, businesses could still legally schedule pharmacists for 12-hour shifts, which Teamsters 727 (a local labor union which represents some pharmacists in the Chicago area) feels should be capped at 8 hours.
What do you think? Is this a bold step that could provoke change in other states and private companies? Are these proposed regulations too extreme? Share your thoughts!
https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/editorials/ct-prescription-drug-interactions-pharmacies-edit-20161216-story.html (accessed 11//5)
https://www.chicagotribune.com/investigations/ct-illinois-pharmacies-prescriptions-breaks-reform-20191025-eztzoiawurdz7ipiw5vjmayi5q-story.html (accessed 11/5)