A Bitter Pill to Swallow
Rx for Disaster?
The Effect on You
Aside from having to wait longer to get a prescription filled,
fewer pharmacists means more overworked pharmacists, which can lead to errors.
The National Institute of Medicine last year estimated that errors are made on
about 4% of the nation's prescriptions -- a total of 120 million mistakes a
Other research suggests the rate of prescription errors
increases after a pharmacist fills more than 24 prescriptions an hour. The
National Pharmacist Association recommends pharmacists fill no more than 15
prescriptions an hour, but that rate is routinely exceeded, with some
pharmacists filling as many as 29 an hour.
Topping the prescription-pad list of reasons for the shortage
of pharmacists, experts say, is an increased demand for medications.
"I am going to stop saying 'shortage' and begin referring
to it as an excessive demand," says Maine. "That really is what is
happening here: an increased demand for processing prescriptions."
"The demand has really gone gangbuster," he says.
"In 1992 there were approximately two billion prescriptions dispensed on an
outpatient basis; by 1999 it had risen to three billion and is expected to
increase to four billion by 2005. I must tell you, we have not seen an increase
even approaching that in terms of infrastructure for pharmaceutical
The Ever-Increasing Demand
Why the boom? The baby boom chiefly, says Roberts, as members
of that needy, numerous generation are reaching the age of peak consumption of
Coupled with that, more medications are out there to treat
diseases -- including chronic ailments requiring multiple drugs, like AIDS, and
conditions like erectile dysfunction that, before Viagra, really had no
treatment. The final factor is the explosion of direct-to-consumer advertising
that prompts well-informed patients to walk into their doctor's office and
demand a prescription.
And of course, people are living longer. "What's keeping
them alive?" asks Roberts. "It's longer living through
On the other side of the equation is the nationwide shift from
a five-year bachelor's degree in pharmacy to the six-year doctor of pharmacy
degree. This means some may skip an advanced degree in pharmacy in favor of,
say, a business or law degree.