CVS Health Responds to Recent News on Pharmacy Workplace Concerns

Friday, January 31, 2020

We fundamentally disagree with the recent assertion in The New York Times that patient safety is at risk in America’s pharmacies. Working in a pharmacy is a difficult and demanding job. Every day, our pharmacists are trusted with the health and safety of patients across the country who are seeking to get well and stay healthy. It’s a job that takes dedication, precision, and most importantly, heart, as we seek to provide care that extends beyond the dispensing of medication.

Patient safety is our highest priority. Everyone at CVS Health, including our more than 30,000 pharmacists, approaches this responsibility with the utmost seriousness and dedication. We work hard, every day, to earn the trust of our patients and customers as we help them on their path to better health.

Despite our excellent safety record, we are committed to continually improving. We’ve made important strides, including using technology to enhance accuracy, regularly measuring the quality of our pharmacy services and, most importantly, listening to and valuing the feedback of our pharmacists.

The practice of pharmacy is rapidly evolving. It’s not just about filling prescriptions anymore, and patients expect pharmacists to play a larger role in their health care. Our pharmacists keep patients healthy through immunization administration, adherence coaching, and clinical interventions. That is why we are fierce advocates for expanding the number and role of pharmacy technicians at our stores. Qualified and trained pharmacy technicians allow pharmacists to have more time to provide patient care, answer questions about medications and serve as true health care counselors.

CVS Health’s mission is to make quality health care more affordable, accessible, simple and seamless. Our retail pharmacies are at the forefront of this effort in communities all across the country. The vast majority of our employees – including pharmacists – are proud be a part of this transformation. We know safety and employee satisfaction are central to our success, and we will continue to find ways to constantly improve both.

Here’s a look at some of the improvements we’ve made:

Advocacy for Additional Pharmacy Resources

As part of our continued commitment to safety and to supporting our pharmacy teams, CVS Health has been on the forefront of advocating for states to increase pharmacy technician to pharmacist ratios. By allowing additional pharmacy technicians behind the counter, we are able to ensure that we are safely and effectively filling prescriptions, and most importantly, that pharmacists are able to provide more effective patient care and counseling.

Innovation and Technology

We’ve invested millions of dollars in technology over the past several years to automate and streamline both prescription and non-prescription filling tasks to enhance the level of care we provide. One of the best examples is electronic prescribing, which is up more than 500% since 2015 and comprises more than 70% of new prescriptions we fill. While prescription errors are very rare, when they do occur the majority happen during the data entry process. By automating 90% of data entry for e-prescriptions, we’re preventing human error and improving efficiency.

While the automation of electronic prescriptions has resulted in a reduction of some pharmacy labor hours, it has improved safety and allows our pharmacy staff to concentrate on patient-centric work.

We’ve also moved from an alphabetic to a numeric pick-up system to create an additional layer of patient safety and redesigned the pharmacist prescription verification screen to enable our pharmacists to more easily identify potential quality issues.

Measurement = Improvement

Quality health care must be safe, effective, and efficient for patients to achieve their best possible health outcomes, which is why we measure the quality of services our pharmacies provide. Accountability for our pharmacists is important, and our use of metrics mirrors what’s commonly used throughout the health care industry. Over the past 18 months we’ve focused in further by narrowing the number of metrics we measure in half, providing us with a clearer picture of what’s working and where improvements may be needed.

We constantly monitor prescription volume and make changes to our staffing levels as volume changes.

Encouraging Employee Feedback

We value the feedback of our pharmacists and take individual, legitimate concerns seriously. We have a firm non-retaliation policy in place for any employee, including our pharmacists, who want to voice a concern. We provide numerous resources for employees to report concerns, and they can do so anonymously. We want to hear feedback, suggestions and concerns as part of our commitment to continual improvement.

Last year, we conducted a survey of all of our pharmacists to gauge their perspective on the culture of patient safety in their pharmacies, and the overwhelming majority of responses were positive. Another factor that indicates job satisfaction among CVS pharmacists is our extremely low turnover rate, which has decreased over the past three years.

When a pharmacist has a legitimate concern about working conditions, we make every effort to address that concern in good faith. That said, there is no profession or industry that is immune from having dissatisfied employees, especially during a period of transformational change. That’s why we’re committed to partnering with our pharmacy teams to help them manage change as effectively as possible.

90-Day Supply: Options and Benefits

Patients can benefit in several ways when they switch from a 30-day supply of their prescription to a 90-day supply:

  • Convenience of reduced trips to the pharmacy and access to medication as soon as they need it;

  • Better medication adherence through taking their medication more regularly with shorter gaps between refills; and

  • Savings from moving from three 30-day copays to one 90-day copay.

Only certain medications are eligible for 90-day supplies. Patients who enroll in our 90-day program can opt-out at any time or choose which eligible prescriptions to move on or off the program. We do not switch 30-day prescriptions that have no refills to a 90-day supply without contacting the prescribing physician for approval; in addition, we maintain a prescriber exclusion list that will prevent prescriptions from being transitioned to a 90-day supply, and continually update that list to accommodate prescriber preferences.