4 Simple Tips for Restoring Patient Trust

NOVEMBER 17, 2017
Pharmacists are still ranked as one of the top most-trusted health care professionals, according to a recent Gallup poll.1

The more that patients trust their pharmacists, the more they will follow through with recommendations and even refer others. Patient loyalty is incredibly valuable, and these loyal customers will also be less likely to get angry if something goes wrong. And they will be more likely to become "raving fans," as life and business coach Tony Robbins describes it.
But though pharmacists are highly trusted, they do not have super powers. They are human and sometimes make mistakes. Being told about a mistake they made, whether it is medication-related or just a misunderstanding, can be devastating. But staying calm and taking ownership of the mistake is key to restoring trust with the patient. Of course, pharmacists who work for institutions should also follow required corporate policies and procedures after making a mistake.
So, what is the best way to handle a customer complaint and maintain a high level of trust?
The important thing to remember is to stay patient-focused instead of self-focused. The patient may be frustrated, upset, or sad, but first and foremost, they need the pharmacist's help. It can be challenging to focus on the patient when one's heart is pounding. In those moments, a practical, effective strategy is needed to restore integrity and trust.

Whether a pharmacist dispensed the wrong strength of a medication or had a comment misinterpreted, these 4 steps can help restore trust with the patient.

1. Re-establish rapport. Pharmacists should always take time to acknowledge the patient and take ownership of what they or their staff members have done wrong. Whether it is over the phone or in person, acknowledge the error, and apologize.
Example: “Hi ____. How are you feeling? Thank you for reaching out to me with your concern. I really appreciate that and assure you this mistake will be rectified immediately.”
In the case of a drug-related mistake, the top priority is to ensure that the patient has not been harmed. Check in with them and see how they are feeling. The appropriate course of action will depend on what kind of mistake was made.
Why this works: The patient feels acknowledged, and a connection is re-established.

2. Discover the problem. Find out what is frustrating or troubling the patient and listen without interrupting.
Example: “I don’t understand why I got the wrong medication.”
In this case, the person may feel frustrated, angry, upset, fearful, or powerless.
Active listening is an important part of effective communication. Notice the word “active." We can “hear” someone speak but not be fully present with what they are saying. Take note of the patient's tone of voice and gestures, as well as his or her actual words.
Another tip: The pharmacist should repeat back to patients their concerns to ensure that they were heard correctly and that they understand that everyone is on the same page. 
Why this works: The patient feels understood.
3. Offer a solution. The pharmacist should validate the patient's concerns, offer a solution, and then check in.
Example: “I can understand how you can feel frustrated that this mistake happened. I sincerely apologize. We will take a look at what caused this to occur and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. In the meantime, allow me to correct the mistake and deliver it to your house.”
This indicates taking ownership, giving a concrete example of how to prevent the problem from re-occurring, and going the extra mile to deliver the prescription.
Why this works: The patient feels understood and relieved.  
4. Cement the relationship. Make sure that the patient knows that the pharmacist will be there for him or her, even after the meeting. Let patients know that they can ask questions or reach out if the problem is not resolved.  
Example: “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. How else can I help?”
Why this works: The patient feels safe and reassured that the pharmacist cares.
If the patient does not feel satisfied after this conversation, try again after the dust has settled. Know that every person will have a different emotional experience, and some people take more time to process their emotions. The conversation can always be revisited.
As difficult as it might be to make a mistake or receive a patient complaint, look at it as a learning opportunity. If we never received patient feedback, we would not be able to correct internal pharmacy issues and deliver even better service.
Of course, we can adapt the best practices that work for our own pharmacies and personal preferences. But following these steps will not only ensure that pharmacists maintain trust with patients, it will help create raving fans.


1. Norman J. Americans rate healthcare providers high on honesty, ethics. Gallup News. news.gallup.com/poll/200057/americans-rate-healthcare-providers-high-honesty-ethics.aspx?g_source=Social%20Issues&g_medium=newsfeed&g_campaign=tiles. Published December 19, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2017.

Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC, CHt
Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC, CHt
Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC is a licensed pharmacist, nutrition consultant and CEO and Founder of Enlightened Wellness Solutions, a transformational coaching company geared to empower and energize people to take charge of their health! Dr. Christina is also a passionate author of two paperback books, Revealing Your Inner Radiance: Healing through the Heart and Reclaim Your Power: A Roadmap to Re-energizing Your Life. For the last 5 years, Dr. Christina has been providing educational health talks in the Pittsburgh area, sharing her expertise on her monthly podcast segment on The Pharmacy Podcast, and creating relevant, informative health articles, YouTube videos and newsletters to empower her clients to live healthy lives!
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