Pharmacy U

Win-win! Engaging patients – essential for a truly successful partnership


Professional associations, community organizations, medical colleagues, pharmaceutical firms. These are a few of the many groups with whom pharmacists forge lasting and substantive partnerships.


By donalee Moulton

Photo by Brandon Gray


One potential, and important partnership, however, is often omitted from the list: a partnership with patients.


Establishing a successful patient partnership is the goal of the Calgary Co-operative Assn. Ltd.’s Tobacco Reduction Program, now up and running in 23 pharmacies with 47 tobacco-reduction educators. “We want pharmacists to be a trusted resource and that Co-op be recognized as an easily accessible destination in the community for this reputable program. It’s about trust and respect, and the focus is on the patient,” says Judy Roberts, Calgary Co-op’s senior pharmacy operations director.


Trained tobacco-reduction pharmacists help patients quit or reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke. One-on-one consultations are offered, and individualized plans are prepared. “Patients are involved in developing their own action plan or quit plan,” notes Roberts.


Patients, many of whom were identified as potential candidates for the program when they received their flu shot from the pharmacy, are given both information and inspiration. The initiative includes material on tobacco and how nicotine works in the brain, smoking-cessation products, self-management methods to overcome withdrawal symptoms and relapses, and many follow-up opportunities in-person or over the phone.


“The initial consultation explores what works and what doesn’t for this person and zeroes in on key issues,” says Sonal Ejner, Calgary Co-op’s pharmacy professional services manager. “The patient plays a pivotal role. They determine the schedule and the pharmacist follows up as often as the patient wants, including daily calls, if desired.”


Success is not defined by the pharmacist, but by the patient, she adds. “We are completely non-judgmental. Should patients take up smoking again or if they don’t want to quit now, that is fine. The plan is what the patient wants.”


As with any partnership, engagement is founded on a willingness to be an integral part of the initiative. “This is not high pressure,” says Roberts. “Patients are welcome to be part of the program, but they’re not pushed.”


She points out that the Tobacco Reduction Program, which has other partners including Pfizer Canada  Inc., grew, in part, out of the realization that many people do not like group programs or relish the idea of going to a hospital or other formal setting to quit smoking. “The foundation of any effective partnership is understanding what will work for everyone involved,” says Roberts. “In this case, our patients prefer to go to the pharmacy. This gives the patients a lot of confidence.”


That confidence contributes to a successful outcome – as defined by patients in their plan. As they work toward their goal, the Co-op pharmacist is there to help answer questions, provide support, and offer suggestions to make the transition from smoker to non-smoker (or less heavy smoker) a smoother one. Ongoing communication is essential. “We follow up to identify what is working and what needs to change,” says Roberts. “This enables us to engage patients and keep the lines of communication open.”


The program is very much a team effort, she adds. “That is essential to a strong partnership.”


Mutual respect is a key ingredient. For example, notes Ejner, when pharmacists reach out to patients they “ask permission to call back in a timeframe set by the patient. The patient is a real partner in their own care and treatment.”


That genuine engagement is the cornerstone of any successful partnership.