Are You Solving the Patient's Real Problem?

The patient always has 2 problems: the original problem and the fear that the problem cannot be solved.

I recently served as the substitute pharmacist at John's store while his partner was on vacation. As I observed his interaction with 78-year-old Gladys disintegrate into a shouting match, I was relieved when the pharmacy technician told me to let John know that his wife was on line 2.

I quickly walked over and told John that his wife was waiting on the phone and that I would take care of his situation with Gladys.

When John got off the phone, he wondered aloud, "Where did Mrs. Tomczak go?"

"Oh, she's gone," I said. "I fixed her up."

"Did she bite your head off, as well?" John asked in a confused tone.

"Are you kidding? She is super sweet!" I exclaimed. "Did you know that she is heading to a bridge tournament? I guess she is a master player."

"How in the...wait, what?" John asked. "But how did you...?"

"I started with a simple sentence: 'Don't worry Mrs. Tomczak, I'll make sure you get your medicine right away,'" I explained. "From there, it was a piece of cake."

"All I was trying to do was explain to her the steps we had to take to get her prescription approved, and she jumps down my throat!" John blurted out in a jealous tone.

"I noticed you did that even after she said, 'I cannot go without my heart pills.' Why did you feel the need to go into such an oratory about all the things that you had to do to get her prescription filled anyway?" I wondered aloud.

"Well, the customer has the right to know what is involved in the process," he answered confidently.

"But why did you REALLY do it?" I said in my best joking voice, though I wasn't joking.

"Well, I guess I wanted to let her know why the process was taking so much time," he said.

"Strike two!" I exclaimed. "Listen, it's deep in our DNA to want recognition for our efforts. It's called the ego.

"But here's the hang up with that: the patient always has 2 problems: the original problem, and the fear that the problem cannot or will not be solved. Gladys telegraphed that to you loud and clear, and you just blew past it," I said.

"Are you trying to say that I'm full of myself?" he stated with a piercing stare.

"Oh no, I just think we all want to develop a reputation as a person who can get things done, and we believe that by 'sharing' all of the things we have to do to accomplish a given task, it will somehow enhance that reputation. The reality is that it detracts from it," I answered.

"Your 'speech' makes people either scared that it is too complicated for you, or it sends the message that you are put out by having to deal with their problem. Just like you did when you blew it with Missy."

"Missy?" John wondered. "What are you talking about now?"

"Earlier this morning, when Missy asked you if she could leave early Thursday night because she wants to watch her daughter's school play, you should have said, 'Sure!'" I said. "Instead, you said she could go, but then you went on to tell her how it would make the night harder for you. You actually told her that you would 'get by' anyway."

"I did that?!" he squeaked out, feeling ashamed. "What do you suggest then?"

"If you want to develop a reputation as a guy who gets things done, just get to work getting things done. Take the story that the ego wants to tell, and just mentally 'unhook it' as you would with a railroad caboose," I explained. "This technique will take time and practice, but your train will run much faster once you master it."

He looked at me, shook his head, and then walked over to Missy and said, "I'm so sorry if I made it sound like..."