Common Communication Barriers Between Prescribers and Pharmacists

Pharmacists and prescribers need to continue closing communication barriers in order to improve patient care.

Pharmacists are constantly double-checking and cross-checking patients’ medications. Anytime we have concerns about drug selection, dosing, safety, or interactions, we want to get in contact with the prescriber to verify the prescription and discuss potential issues.

However, the following communication barriers can hinder pharmacists’ efforts.

1, Lack of Interprofessional Training

During internships, residencies, and fellowships, health care professionals have the opportunity to work alongside each other regardless of their future career paths. Unfortunately, not all students get to work on teams comprised of prescribers, pharmacists, nurses, physician assistants, lab technicians, and others, so many don’t learn the benefits of consulting with other health care professionals to obtain different views of a patient’s care.

2. Multiple Prescribers

Patients with multiple comorbidities tend to have multiple prescribers. Sometimes, a change in therapy by one of their prescribers does not get discussed with the others, which can result in drug duplications and interactions.

As middlemen, pharmacists are constantly contacting all of the patient’s prescribers to craft the best drug therapy plan, but it’s not always easy to get in contact with 5 different health care professionals.

3. Drug Interaction Misconceptions

Pharmacists are trained to spot drug interactions and determine whether they will be beneficial or detrimental to patients. It is our duty to make sure that the prescriber is aware of any interactions and continues to appropriately monitor for adverse effects through blood tests, symptom monitoring and management, or adjustments in regimen.

When we reach out to prescribers, our goal is to work with them to make sure that the patient is safe, rather than question their prescribing ability. Pharmacists have a corresponding responsibility to speak with the prescriber, but it doesn't always happen.

Many prescribers are already aware of potential interactions, especially if they are prescribing all of the patient’s medications, so they may put a conversation with the pharmacist aside because they may not see the benefits of the discussion.

4. Relaying Messages Through Receptionists

When you call a larger practice, chances are you won’t actually be able to speak with a prescriber. Those working in large practices see so many patients a day that they’re understandably not waiting by the phone for a pharmacist’s calls.

Calling the main office to leave a message to relay to the prescriber is like playing a game of telephone. The messages we leave with the receptionist don’t always seem to translate to the prescribers, which often leaves them confused or leads them to complete the wrong tasks.

5. Lack of Availability to Speak with Prescribers

Pharmacists’ daily tasks are expanding, and that requires us to be in multiple places at once. We have to prioritize tasks, which inevitably makes some tasks take longer to complete.

I’m sure that every pharmacist in a hospital or retail setting has experienced a time when you get the call back from the prescriber’s office just when an order or prescription is due ASAP and a flu shot needs to be given. Then, when you finally get to the phone, the prescriber sounds understandably frustrated and the conversation becomes rushed because he or she needs to get back to work.

6. Overwhelming Patient Volume

From the moment they open until they close, prescribers may see a new patient every 15 minutes in their schedule with very few breaks. Sound familiar?

It’s not easy for prescribers to recall specific details about patients, especially those who drop off the prescription days after the appointment. Sometimes, the prescriber didn’t get a chance to document every detail of the appointment, and other times, prescribers just don’t have answers for us, which requires them to contact the patient again.

Pharmacists and prescribers need to continue closing all of these communication barriers as much as possible in order to improve patient care.