Friday, August 2, 2013

The Tyranny of the Queue

Despite the great lengths we took to speed through the pharmacy line, there was a hiccup at the counter, and I was the cause of a quickly growing queue snaking behind us. As I growled my displeasure, hubby tried to shush me with mild threats, with little effect.

This should not have happened.

It matters, and I'll tell you why.

I decided some time ago that a passion to carry me through retirement might very well be to shorten these lines, in any way I can. It was a pharmacy failure that inspired me to start this blog years ago. The queue is dispiriting, it deadens the soul. Temporary strangers are caught, helpless, in a chain of events out of their control. In the heirarchy of petitioner and petitioned, the pharmacist has all the power. Social constraints keep us bound to the other side of the counter, unable to leap the barrier and rifle through the baskets ourselves. No matter how broken the process, all of us on the other side of the line are caught until someone untangles the mess.

I care because I carry some chronic health conditions. I will be spending time in lines. If there is a queue, I want someone to be alert, to parse the business process to catch the failures, and to make it better. I want my humanity to be recognized, to never be reduced to a number. I will not stand by, deadened to passivity.

From bureaucracy by dudayaduda

(Bureaucracy by dudayaduda)
I've had it very good the last few years, by the way of a small town pharmacist who remembered my name from the first day. He would see us coming from our entry in the store, and our medications would be waiting for us by the time we arrived at the counter. When we discussed the nuances of insurance or drug interactions, I felt like I was in the care of an informed professional, and that I received respect as a fellow human being. I knew from that first meeting that Jaime Fournier of Fournier Drugs, Grande Cache, would spoil me for any other sort of service.

So. Well. We leave my beloved small town, and it is big city again. I had a plan to conquer the queue, and I did so with a vengeance. Insurance plan cards and drug lists in hand, Jaimie's phone number displayed on my iPhone, I introduced ourselves to our chosen pharmacy. For that initial visit, there were no prescriptions to be filled. I was giving ample notice of our existence, to be vetted through the system. The attendant was a tad frazzled, I'll give her that. Two other pharmacists were busy at the filling station. An equally frazzled line had formed at the receiving end of the counter. That first visit was successful, and I made a mental note never to visit at "rush hour".

It's been a few weeks, and a small pile of vials were due for refills. Determined to bypass the rush, I had hubby drop off the prescriptions first thing in the morning.

So far, so good.

Granted, I took the chance at arriving after work, but things were looking up. There was but one customer ahead of me. Our prescriptions were found quickly. But.

But hubby's insurance had not gone through.

My strategy crashing around my ears, I am the outraged diva. Of course his insurance should work. I still had his card on me, and I made the girl look it up again. After some rushed number crunching, she calls out, "Good news, it took!".

"Of course it took," I growled. Hubby made nervous shushing sounds. A line started forming at our back.

Some further frantic number crunching, "And yours took, too!" Bravo, I silently rumble, the system works.

I fuss over payment, and we clear the counter to freedom.

I had done everything in my power to smooth the way for a speedy delivery. Insurance information was provided weeks ahead of time. Our orders were placed seven hours in advance. What went wrong? In my opinion there were two fails on Seth Godin's list, "It's not my job", and "I am not a fish." The attendants that day had the time, the process, and the tools in place to get the job done. What was missing was that element of humanity. The first time the insurance did not clear, during a slow period of the day, the attendant did not take a minute to put herself in my shoes. How might I feel at the end of the day if the insurance had not cleared? There's a husband and wife team here, on the same plan. Could something else have gone wrong?

She had done all that was required of her at the time, following process, and doing it efficiently. But she effectively doubled her effort at the worst time of day by not taking a moment to see not papers and slips but a human being at the end of the line.