Sunday, April 28, 2019

Pharmacy should have respected customer's privacy

"Am I out of line here?" asks Kate, who lives in one of Chicago's far western suburbs.

Kate recently drove into one of the drive-through lanes at her local pharmacy to pick up a prescription. The sales clerk was helping a woman in the lane to Kate's right when Kate pulled up.

"She said her name," writes Kate. "I heard it." The clerk retrieved that customer's prescription, returned and asked, "The birth control, right?"

"That's information I wouldn't want announced for others to hear," writes Kate. Then the clerk asked her to verify her address. "I clearly heard her address." Then he asked the other customer to verify her phone number. "She hesitated but eventually gave it. I heard every number."

Then it was Kate's turn. It was the same routine, but "something in me rose up," writes Kate. When he asked for her phone number she replied, "It hasn't changed." But the clerk kept pressing her for the phone number. She finally told him that she wasn't going to say it out loud.

The clerk then went to get the manager who returned, read Kate's phone number to her and asked if it was accurate. Kate responded: "Yes it is, and now the people behind me in line have heard my name, address and phone number."

"No ma'am, the people in line can't hear you," the manager responded.

Kate got her prescription but she remains incensed about the lack of privacy afforded her and other pharmacy customers. She now wonders if calling out the clerk and the manager and mentioning that she heard the private information of her fellow customer was out of line.

Nothing Kate did was out of line. The pharmacy staff has every right to ask a customer for validation of their name to ensure that they are given the appropriate prescription. But gathering that information in a manner that violates the privacy of the customer is not acceptable.

In many pharmacies, there are good reasons why customers are asked to wait a certain distance from the customer in front of them. The clerk or manager could have asked to see a license or asked for a credit card or other form of identification to match up the name to the prescription.

Quibbling with Kate about whether she heard the private information of the customer in front of her or next to her was also inappropriate. The point was that the pharmacy staff crossed a line by not ensuring a customer's privacy.

Kate did the right thing by calling out the clerk and the manager. The pharmacy should do the right thing by re-evaluating how it delivers prescriptions to customers in its drive-through pickup lines. It should take every measure to ensure a customer's privacy is respected. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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