Step Outside the Dispensing Box: Educate and Engage Patients

The better educated the patient, the better medicated the patient will be.

Over the many years I have practiced pharmacy, I have come to the following conclusion: the better educated the patient, the better medicated the patient will be.

It takes a personal connection between the patient and pharmacist to make this happen, and education and personal engagement both help create it. This personal connection will produce the greatest dividends in improving medication adherence and compliance.

Patients who learn about their medications and understand how their medications work are the ones who get prescriptions refilled regularly and take their medications as prescribed. They are the patients who understand how medications improve their lives.

If you want to improve outcomes and improve lives, then you must be involved in the process of engaging and educatiing your patients. With that in mind, I urge you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time you truly engaged with a patient about their medication therapy?
  • How did you engage with your patient to produce positive results?

Here are 4 tips for pharmacists to improve patient education and engagement:

#1. Start the conversation with a patient to determine whether medications are being used properly.

Pharmacies are usually very busy places. Although making time for consultations on new prescriptions is a priority and legal obligation, it can be difficult and hurried at best. Most of these consultations usually last less than a minute, which is not enough time to build a patient relationship that will have any lasting value.

If you don’t “make and take” the time to build a relationship, then you’ll never achieve it. You need to start the conversation.

#2. Never pass up an opportunity to counsel with a patient, even on refills. You might prevent a future problem.

I often find myself making excuses to counsel patients on refill prescriptions. Maybe the shape or color of their medication has changed, or I see them buying a vitamin or herbal supplement I want to talk to them about. Or maybe I just feel like asking them about a family member or how they are doing.

Over the years, I have found that these brief encounters at the cash register or counseling area can reveal information I wouldn't otherwise know. Don’t allow yourself to pass up these opportunities to counsel with patients and build relationships. You don’t really even need an excuse.

#3. Step out from behind the pharmacy counter as often as possible to consult with patients on their level.

Sometimes, it's difficult to overcome the obstacles between a pharmacist and a patient. “White coat syndrome,” which has been shown to raise a patient’s blood pressure, can also become a deterrent to the connection necessary for effective patient counseling. Insert the usual counter top between yourself and your patient, and you create a physical obstacle. Neither one contributes positively to an atmosphere that should convey trust and concern.

Whether you wear a white coat or not, stepping out from behind the pharmacy counter to engage patients eliminates the physical barrier and provides a neutral environment. It also leads to a more friendly relationship with the patient that helps build trust.

Take the time to step out from behind the counter when you can. It’s healthy for your patients, and it's healthier for you, too.

#4. Some patients have many providers, but they should have only 1 pharmacist. Tell them why it should be you.

Do your patients understand the importance of getting all of their prescriptions filled at a single pharmacy? Most patients don’t understand the relevance of this simple principle, and it’s easy for them to assume that their doctor has all of their medications under control. But how many doctors are prescribing for them?

Educate your patients about the process of having their pharmacist review their prescriptions every time they have 1 filled. They should only be using 1 pharmacy whenever possible, so show and tell them why it should be you.

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The 2013 National Report Card on Adherence by the National Community Pharmacists Association revealed that

a patients’ personal connection with a pharmacist or pharmacy staff is the top predictor of medication adherence. This personal connection with a pharmacist, or lack thereof, is determined by the way in which you educate and engage with your patients.

Make it a point to educate a patient about their medications today. You could change someone’s life, maybe even yours.

References:

1. ComputerTalk for the Pharmacist, "Medication Adherence" by Marsha K. Millonig, R.Ph., MBA, Sept-October 2013

2. The National Report Card on Adherence is part of NCPA’s Pharmacists Advancing Medication Adherence (PAMA) initiative, which is supported by educational grants from Cardinal Health Foundation, Merck and Pfizer.