Pharmacists are burning out. Patients are feeling the effects.

Pharmacists are burning out. Patients are feeling the effects.

When Christopher Duke’s frail, elderly patient needed her blood pressure prescription refilled last year, she did what she always does — she called Duke, a physician in Chevy Chase, Md.

No problem, Duke told her, he would call it in to a nearby pharmacy.

But there was a problem — because Duke couldn’t get anyone to answer his calls. Instead, he ran up against a frustrating new reality at many drugstores, especially those in big chains: As essential jobs at retail outlets go unfilled, and hours are reduced at many chains, the likelihood of spotty service and potential mistakes at pharmacies has grown.

When Duke called the pharmacy, its phone mailbox was full. He called the pharmacy again and requested the direct line for doctors, and the phone rang. And rang. It rang for more than 40 minutes unanswered, Duke said. The next day, the woman made her way into Duke’s office to get a paper prescription. It marked the second time in a short period that Duke’s efforts to call in a prescription had failed, he said; the other also forced an elderly patient to come to his office to pick up a paper script.

It was “aggravating and time consuming,” Duke said. While most of his prescription calls ultimately get through, enough don’t that it has become a recurring headache.

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