Phone-a-pill: Get your prescriptions in person

Blondie sang the great song, "Call Me. " Even Richard Gere in American Gigolo played that song long before Pretty Woman. Today, with cell phones, *69, and caller-ID, it's so easy to call your friends, family, mother-in-law, and– your doctor. In fact, it's too easy.

The phone rings off the hook in most doctors' offices. So most patients who call their doctor are greeted by an answering machine that says, "Hi, please press 1 for the front desk, 2 for prescriptions refills, 911 if you are in an emergency..."

Okay, time to be honest. How many of you see the doctor, go home, and then call the doctor back a few times to request refills?

Is it that difficult, and unsafe, to phone in prescriptions to a pharmacy? Some offices hire a full-time nurse to deal with phone-in prescriptions– which only increases healthcare costs. Every day, many a nurse has to review anywhere from 20 to 40 phone messages for refills.

First she has to decipher the message, then find the patient's chart. Most patients can't pronounce their medications because they're strange words. "Pia... pilates... piagli... sigh... It's some long name and it's small and white. You should know what it is."

If the patient gives the wrong dose, then the nurse has to figure out what's correct: "10mg or 20mg? The chart says 10, but the patient says 20. What's he taking?"

So the nurse calls the patient, usually can't get the patient, and then waits an hour to call again. Then, before you know it, the patient calls from the pharmacy very upset and angry, asking why his prescription isn't ready. (Yes, this happens more than you know.) Or, the nurse leaves a message on the pharmacy phone line for a prescription to be refilled, and the pharmacist smiles innocently at the angry customer.

"The doctor's office never called us. Tsk, tsk on them!" the pharmacist says innocently. (Don't get me wrong. Most pharmacists are terrific, but there can be a few who pass the buck. )

I have directly spoken with pharmacists and left them orders for prescriptions, only to learn the next morning that an upset patient didn't get the medication. If I want to be ignored, I'll call my Senator.

I try not to call in prescriptions. I ask all my patients to come with their current prescription bottles so I can see when they need refills, but also to make sure they're taking the right medications. My patients feel like bag ladies with all their meds (except the ones who bring them in Kate Spade bags).

Nonetheless, I insist on it because mistakes are made– even with my prescriptions, which are typed out! Even spelling the names of the medicine out on the pharmacy answering machine or to the pharmacist personally doesn't guarantee the patient will get the right drug. Before you know it, Mrs. X starts looking like Captain Hook because she's taking the wrong medication.

Come to the office to pick up your written prescriptions, then take the paper to your pharmacist. You might have to wait, but it's your health and life! It's better than looking like Captain Hook (unless you happen to be Captain Hook).

Finally, don't wait until your last pill to get your refill! Call a week in advance. It's like your car. If you drive your car until the gauge is on empty, you'll soon be walking.

Got a question? Dr. Hook wants to hear from you!