Multiple priorities: some suggestions

Last updated: Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When faced with a situation like this, you could do a number of things:

Gather information

Make an informed decision about the phone call, by asking some questions:

  • Ask the doctor what she wants to know.
  • Find out when she wants an answer.

The doctor wants to check the dose of a medicine that you’ve never heard of, and she says she needs it straight away.

How important is the doctor’s question compared to everything else you must do?

Her question is important because the doctor must prescribe accurately, but how urgent is it clinically? For example, it’s urgent if the patient is critically ill or the medicine is part of a vital intervention – in which case, the information must be provided quickly. But the doctor might be asking for a speedy answer simply because she doesn’t want to be kept waiting.

This is about prioritisation. Assess what else you are responsible for at this moment. Then prioritise your work according to clinical urgency. This means asking yourself the question: Which jobs are most likely to put patients at risk if I delay doing them? If in doubt, always put patient safety first. Of all the jobs you have on your plate in this scenario, only the phone call might have safety implications for a patient. All the other tasks might keep people waiting if you delay, but they’re less urgent. So you must find out what the doctor wants.

Can you ask for help?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re mature enough to recognise that everyone has limitations. Perhaps you could bleep a clinical pharmacist working in the clinical area concerned and ask them for the answer or even request that they take over the problem. If you have a Medicines Information centre, you could ask them. Or maybe there is another pharmacist in the dispensary, or your line manager, who could look into the doctor’s query for you?

Finally, whatever you decide to do, you must communicate with the doctor on the phone and explain what you are doing:

  • I do apologise but I’m the only pharmacist on duty this morning and I can’t leave the dispensary right now. Since you’re not due to see the patient until 4pm, I’ll look this up when I go off duty at 12 o’clock and get back to you as soon as I can.
  • I’m a new member of the team here and I’ve not come across this before. I know you need an answer quickly. So, would you mind bleeping our Medicines Information Pharmacist on 1234, and they will be able to help you.