As pharmacies become the primary source of healthcare information for Canadians, it is crucial that pharmacists do a first-rate job of educating their patients about the importance of good health. But how do you begin?
By Alison Davison, BScPharm, PhD
Whether you refer to the process as patient counselling or patient-centred pharmacy care, it’s your duty to effectively advise your clients how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It can be requiring a flu shot, using medications correctly, or sitting with patients for a comprehensive medication review.
But how do you develop a pharmacy team that communicates well with patients? What skills do your pharmacists need to properly advise patients? How do they learn these skills?
#1 Develop the right team.
Some of the required proficiencies are learned at pharmacy school, but developing a team that transmits information accurately and effectively to patients begins with hiring. Your pharmacists then learn and fine-tune most of their skills on the job.
During the hiring process it is important to look for “people persons’’ who can effectively communicate with patients or who may not have these skills now, but are keen to learn. If potential hires don’t show a desire to interact with patients in an effective and friendly way, they may not be a good candidate for a patient-centred team.
#2 Hone your communication skills.
Once on the job, every pharmacist’s toolbox of communication skills should include the ability to listen patiently to questions and understand needs and concerns so patients feel they are part of the conversation. Pharmacists need the ability to quickly analyze each situation and deliver clear and simple advice on the spot. And they need to be able to empathize so patients know it is acceptable to express their frustrations over issues such as the side effects of a medication.
Every patient should leave your pharmacy in a positive or satisfied frame of mind. This will only happen if your pharmacists lend a sympathetic ear to the issues confronting their patients and respond in a clear, friendly and professional manner. It’s that simple.
A helpful tip I give my pharmacists is to use a patient’s first name in every interaction. This makes each conversation more personal and helps develop a positive bond with patients. It is also a positive experience for pharmacists. When we can recall a patient’s first name, we are also likely to remember the specifics of a person’s health condition, which reduces the need to spend valuable time reviewing patient files in future conversations.
#3 Learn from feedback
In a busy dispensary, the learning process, for the most part, is left up to individual pharmacists. Every interaction brings useful patient feedback: a knowing smile for when something is explained concisely and clearly, or a look of puzzlement indicating an explanation was unclear and needs to be simplified or reworded.
Pharmacists who want to improve their skills will use each experience to hone their abilities and become better communicators.
In our store, learning from our fellow colleagues’ experiences is essential and our pharmacist-to-pharmacist feedback is ongoing. Once a week, my pharmacists meet to provide feedback to one another on weekly pharmacy and patient-care activities. Each pharmacist is invited to discuss interactions – both successful and unsuccessful – and relay tips and advice their colleagues can immediately put into practice.
#4 Promote your services and care
Providing first-rate patient-centred pharmacy care is crucial to maintaining and attracting a solid patient base. At the end of the day, we want patients to know we are the best advocate for their health and hope we can provide them with the best care and support possible.
If your patients receive the time, advice and information to understand their medications and intended benefits, as well as what is needed to lead a healthy lifestyle, not only will your team live up to its professional responsibilities but your pharmacists will get considerably more satisfaction from their work.
Alison Davison BScPharm, PhD, owns the Shoppers Drug Mart store at 7th Street SW and 17th Avenue SW in the Beltline area of Lower Mount Royal in Calgary.