10 Things Pharmacists Should Never Say to Patients


Every pharmacist in direct contact with patients has experienced a moment when a patient was less than enthused by your response to his or her question.

Every pharmacist in direct contact with patients has experienced a moment when a patient was less than enthused by your response to his or her question.

There is nothing more frustrating than facing an issue with a patient’s prescription that is out of your hands, and then adding confusion, anger, and disappointment to the situation. Fortunately, replacing the following statements with a more delicate and empathetic approach may save you from a hostile situation.

1. “You’re my first shot this season.”

There is nothing more nerve-racking for a patient than pointing out that you haven’t vaccinated anyone in a few months. Chances are you’ve given hundreds if not thousands of vaccinations, so don’t make a patient believe that you’re incapable of providing any service you’ve been trained to perform.

2. “I completely understand where you’re coming from.”

When a patient is expressing difficulties with their health care, they are looking to you for advice and assistance in achieving their health care goals. Just saying that you “understand” doesn’t help the patient and can even be interpreted as wanting to get through the conversation in order to move onto the next patient.

Be honest and say that you haven’t had these experiences, and then let patients know that you’re available to help them if needed.

3. “If you have an issue, call Obama.”

Obamacare has made both positive and negative waves throughout the health care community. For patients, it has created a hurricane of confusion.

It’s important that we do our best to explain the changes in patients’ health care coverage, rather than passing blame and making patients feel helpless.

4. “It’s a $5 copay. Why are you complaining?”

Questioning a patient’s financial status is an amateur mistake and can be highly offensive. Perhaps the patient is paying off a large hospital bill or shouldering a sick family member.

Regardless, it’s not our position to verbally question or judge patients who don’t shell out $5 without hesitation. Instead, ask if they have any additional prescription discounts for you to reduce their copay.

5. “It’s only your lifesaving medication.”

Patients already know this, so you don’t have to harshly judge them for choosing between spending $600 on their medications or paying their mortgage this month.

Always re-explain deductibles to patients who aren’t familiar with them and offer to break up prescriptions into 30-day supplies for those who don’t have the means to purchase all of their medications in bulk amounts. You could also contact their prescriber for cheaper alternatives.

6. “I went to school to master drugs, not your insurance policy.”

Patients hold us to high expectations, which include being a master of all trades. Since we bill their insurance on a daily basis, they only assume that we know everything possible about their policy.

If you’re having difficulty billing patients’ insurance, or they’re asking how much a drug that you’re unable to bill will cost, offer to call their payer to resolve the issue or at least get them some information.

7. “They’re your medications, so you should be calling for your own refills.”

It’s a difficult situation when patients demand that we call their prescriber while they stand at the counter waiting.

If they need their medications in the next day or so, offer to call their payer and suggest that they call, as well. If it’s not a controlled medication, offer to give them a 3-day supply to hold them over (if your employer allows it). Explain that the office will sometimes respond faster if both the patient and pharmacy are requesting the refill.

8. “Do I look like your doctor?”

When I was an intern, the best response I heard a patient give the pharmacist was, “It says ‘doctor’ on your nametag. Sorry for thinking you could diagnose this skin rash!”

It took everything in me to keep a straight face and not laugh. What a clever response!

If patients present to you with an ailment, just be honest and explain the few different things that you believe it could be, but make sure to suggest that they head over to their physician to get a confirmation.

9. “Your doctors don’t know what they’re doing.”

Patients trust the knowledge of their physicians, so questioning it takes the ground out from under them. Physicians, nurses, and pharmacists are all a team and need to be a united front, rather than undermine each other.

If you are questioning a physician’s decision, call the office and express your concerns to arrive at a resolution. The patient will be confident that his or her prescriber and pharmacist are on the same page.

10. “If you want my help, you should adjust your attitude.”

Like all human beings, pharmacists deserve to be addressed with respect and decency, but sometimes, a patient crosses the line.

You’re in a delicate situation to continue providing health care to a patient who needs it while maintaining a healthy work environment for yourself and your staff. Addressing a patient in a challenging manner will only escalate the situation from frustrating to hostile, which will result in everyone being unhappy.

If patients upset you to the point where you become aggressive, step back, take a deep breath, and simply say that you are here to help them and would like to, but everyone needs to treat each other with kindness and respect. If patients proceed with an aggressive approach, suggest that another team member help them or tell them come back at a later time after you’re able to resolve the issue on your own.

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