The MTF Pharmacy: Where Precious Hours Go to Die

A few weeks ago, my husband sent me a photo of his pharmacy ticket while he was waiting for a prescription at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.


The image of his pharmacy ticket showed that at 11:40, there were 42 tickets ahead of his. At 12:05, he sent me a text saying they’d only called two tickets in the last 20 minutes.

About an hour and a half later, I check in with him to see how long it took the pharmacy to fill his prescription. He was STILL there! Maybe the pharmacy was short staffed? Were there only a few windows open? Nope. There looked to be plenty of staff, he said. And there were eight windows open!


He finally received his prescription at 1:40; essentially wasting 2 full hours of the Marine Corps’ time.

Many military treatment facility (MTF) pharmacies have the option to request your prescription, and then return at a later time to pick it up, but unfortunately this isn’t always an option for most. In my husband’s case, his Primary Care Manager (PCM) referred him to a specialist at Walter Reed, which is an hour away from where we live. He had no choice but to wait for his prescription that day.

Thankfully, he now has the option to communicate his dissatisfaction through the new Joint Outpatient Experience Survey (JOES).

JOES rolled out last year as an improvement over the old patient satisfaction surveys. Previously, each of the services had their own version of the survey, but it wasn’t consistent across the Military Health System (MHS). Now standardized for all, JOES will allow the MHS to compare performance and satisfaction across the board.


In a few weeks, my husband will receive a survey in the mail asking about his experience at the facility where he received treatment, and the provider he saw that day. He will be asked to rate aspects of his care– did the provider treat him with courtesy and respect? Was it easy to make the appointment? Would he recommend the facility to another Tricare-eligible family?

He will even have the option to rate other services in the facility, such as Radiology, Laboratory, or Pharmacy. Well, how about that?

If the survey information my husband provides is used properly, it should give some valuable insight to the Defense Health Agency (DHA) on his experience within the MTF he visited.  His relayed experience should help pinpoint areas that may need improving, like the pharmacy wait-time.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Will you complete the survey? We want to hear about your experiences, so please share them with us!

mjPosted by MJ Boice, Staff Writer


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    Walter Reed Bethesda Public Affairs Office

    I wanted to take a moment to respond to the blog entitled “The MTF Pharmacy: Where Precious Hours Go to Die,” posted on January 25, 2017. I am greatly disappointed that the pharmacy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center failed to provide this Marine an extraordinary patient experience. I also appreciate this feedback as an important opportunity to improve how we treat our patients.

    On January 4, 2017, we experienced a significant disruption to our computer networks that directly impacted our ability to view information in the electronic medical record and our ability to fill prescriptions. In order to continue serving our patients, the pharmacy staff manually entered patient and prescription information into our automated dispensing system. Doing this manually increases the chance of error, so taking extra time to ensure our patients received the right medications is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, this resulted in an increase in patient wait times and fewer staff manning the windows at all of our pharmacies.

    What is clear from this experience is that we failed to adequately inform our patients as to the reason for the delay and to keep them informed of our operational status. For that, I want to apologize to this Marine and all of our patients who had a similar experience on January 4th.

    We have identified the root causes of this computer outage and are working on improvements to ensure better reliability of our automated systems and electronic medical record. The feedback in this blog will also allow us to reemphasize the critical importance of keeping our patients informed when unusual situations like this occur.

    Again, please accept my apology for your experience and thank you very much for this valuable feedback and the opportunity to improve the service we provide to all of our patients in the future.

    Michael S. Heimall
    Colonel, US Army
    Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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