Stress in Pharmacists Skyrockets: How to Mitigate Burnout and Reduce Patient Safety Risks

According to a Clinical Pharmacy Research Report in the Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy regarding burnout among pharmacists, research showed that health-system pharmacist burnout was 87.6%, ambulatory care pharmacist burnout was 88.4%, and non-ambulatory health-system pharmacist burnout was 87.1%.3 Burnout is defined by the report as “high emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and low personal accomplishment from work.”  

While much of this stress is amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are greater challenges at play, causing a myriad of risks and problems that, if not fixed, could further reduce the quality of care among patients. 

How Pharmacist Burnout Puts Patients At-Risk
If we think about a typical day in the life of a pharmacist, one thing is abundantly clear: they are busy. Have you been to a pharmacy lately? Standing in long lines, having to wait for the pharmacist or pharmacy technician to find your prescription, and even waiting for the line to free up so they can administer flu and coronavirus vaccinations are just a part of what makes pharmacists so busy (and patient satisfaction suffer as a result).

quote-mark I have to multitask to the point of it being unsafe,” says one pharmacist.1 

What happens when a pharmacist gets too busy? Mistakes. And in such a highly regulated, critically important industry where patient safety is at stake, pharmacist burnout is a very big risk for patients and for the efficacy of pharmacy operations. According to the Stress Management Society, prolonged stress can cause loss of concentration, demotivation, difficulty in making decisions, irritability and feelings of being overwhelmed — all of which pharmacists and pharmacy technicians cannot afford. 

Some things that may be contributing to pharmacists’ stress include: 

  • Staffing shortages. Does “the great resignation” ring a bell? With fewer pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, there are less people to do the work, which has expanded greatly as a result of COVID vaccinations, COVID testing, and flu shots (depending on the time of year), in addition to their other daily tasks. Some pharmacists have even been quoted saying that they don’t have time to fill scripts because they have too many vaccinations scheduled. And if a pharmacy is lucky enough to recruit new employees, the existing staff is then responsible for another task: training new hires. Staffing shortages are therefore exasperated by making it difficult to train new staff that are filling the roles that caused the shortages in the first place.  

quote-mark I generally do four hours unpaid overtime each week to keep stress down.”2   
-- A tired and frustrated pharmacist who manages their stress only when working outside the confines of the requirements of their job. 

  • Providing the wrong medication to the wrong patient. One of the riskiest parts of running a pharmacy is the potential to provide a patient with the wrong medication. With so many competing priorities, the risk for extremely dangerous or deadly mistakes skyrockets.  

  • Managing inventory. It takes a lot of work to run an outpatient pharmacy. One of the biggest challenges is inventory management. Maintaining your over the counter (OTC) items such as Tylenol, allergy medication, and much more; pricing those items; and refilling those OTC items takes time and resources to order, organize, and ultimately sell to the patients that need them. Plus, the time it takes to do these things infringes on the pharmacist’s ability to fulfill medications for patients. 

  • Necessity for medication adherence. The first fill of a prescription is the optimal time to ensure patients understand what is expected of them in their medication therapy and maximize their health outcome. Ensuring that pharmacists can spend time with patients is critical so that they can consult, answer questions, and give patients comfort for their overall wellbeing – time pharmacists have less and less of due to their stressful, busy jobs.  

  • Patient wait times. If patients are waiting long periods of time to pick up or receive their medications, they may abandon pick up altogether and never fill their medications. This is another big risk for their health. Pharmacists need time back in their days to avoid burnout but also to be better care providers for their patients. 

  • Pressure to turn over inpatient beds. Hospitals are losing highly valuable beds while patients ready for discharge cannot leave because they are waiting for their medications. Bedside medication delivery can be extremely manual, offer limited payment collection types, and create a frustrating patient experience without the proper tools.   

Solving the Burnout Problem 

With so many factors working against them, is it possible to find a solution that can help pharmacies run more efficiently and provide better care for patients? 

Thankfully, the answer is yes. Click here to speak with us about how you can improve your pharmacy's operations, enhance patient safety, and re-energize your pharmacists and pharmacy staff. 





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