To Communicate Concerns, Use the SBAR Method

Use the SBAR communication technique to get straight to the point.

Have you ever called a physician to recommend a change in therapy only to get taken down a completely different path that leaves you scratching your head, thinking "What just happened?" Or have you had a physician hang up on you because you took too long to get to the point? Or worse, had a physician stop calling you because you wore them out with your incessant phone calls?

Communication is the backbone of pharmacy practice and health care. But if you are shy or intimidated by others, then you need to find a way to organize your thoughts and get your message across without getting sidetracked or wasting anyone's time, including your own.

Why not try the SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation) method of communicating?

SBAR is recommended by the Joint Commission as a tool for standardized communication. It was developed by the US Navy as a communication tool for use on nuclear submarines, a place where getting the right information in a timely manner is critical. It gets straight to the point and provides a recommendation, which other health care professionals want when pharmacists call them.

Using examples, the components of SBAR concern:

  • Situation: A patient presents with orders for atenolol and metoprolol from different physicians.
  • Background: The atenolol was prescribed by a family physician while the metoprolol was prescribed by cardiologist.
  • Assessment: Because atenolol and metoprolol are both beta-blockers, the patient has been prescribed duplicate therapy that could lead to dangerously low pulse and blood pressure.
  • Recommendation: Discontinue 1 of the 2 products to avoid an adverse drug event.

The SBAR technique is pretty easy, once you get the hang of it. Here are a few tricks:

  • Do your research ahead of time and organize your thoughts. Figure out what you need to say using the 4 components of SBAR. If you're calling a physician, write down on a piece of paper what you're calling about.
  • Take out the fluff, but make sure to include relevant, important information.
  • Have the paper ready when you make the call. If you feel nervous or get someone who is argumentative, you can always lean back on the sheet for guidance.
  • Sometimes, you can cover the background and assessment together, because they are more than likely related.
  • Listen closely in case the person on the other end of the conversation offers a point you hadn't thought about.