What Every Pharmacist Needs

You know how it is, you're in a hurry, using your fast walk down the hall way, where ever it is that you work.  You turn the corner and there's the person you've been needing to ask a question of.  Politely you  interrupt them and ask if they have just two minutes to spare for a quick question.  "Of course, what could I help you with?" they say.  In less than four seconds they have taken their focus off of all that they were doing and given you their 100% attention. 

Somehow, they have quickly made you feel as if your question is the most important item they have been requested to address all day.  They listen intently, allowing you to finish your sentences without rushing.  Interestingly, it feels as if they understand exactly how you feel about the concern you are expressing.  Even though it has only been two minutes, you were sure it must have been at least five or even ten minutes.  You leave the interaction with an assurance that you have been heard and are completely satisfied with the interaction and response.

We have all had interactions where we walk away less than satisfied with the response from the other individual.  For that matter, I am sure that many times individuals have walked away from us with similar dissatisfactions.  What is it that distinguishes an individual in a conversation?  What characteristic does someone have that quiets them and helps them listen when the other person is speaking?  Why does one person understand what the speaker is discussing and respond appropriately while the other is reminded of a story from their life and immediately routes the conversation in another direction?

Bartenders got it, barbers got it, therapists and counselors defiantly got it; and now, we expect pharmacists to have it!
Pharmacists , who have been tied behind pharmacy counters for years, complaining that they are underutilized in their clinical skills, are being pulled, kicking and screaming, out in front of the counter to talk with patients.  As a matter of fact, we don't just want you to talk with the patient about their medications, we want you to also educate them about their disease state, address their barriers to effective medication adherence, help them understand the consequences of not participating in their medication regimen, thoroughly explain their prescription insurance options to them, check in on them when they are in the hospital to assure their medications are reconciled appropriately, and then call them on a regular basis after they leave the hospital to assure they are maintaining adequate control of their ever expanding pharmaceutical world.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for it.  This is a truly exciting time in the pharmacy universe and I want to be part of the huge solution.  My concern is that not all pharmacist are ready for this process.  We are good at what we do.  We have been trained in all aspects of the science of medications.  Computer verification, dosing calculations, drug interactions and therapeutic duplications, heck, even the occasional telephone call to the physician's office for an order clarification.

Whether it be a patient picking up a refill with a quick question, an extended medication counseling session at the pharmacy counter, a visit to the patients hospital room prior to discharge to discuss their new medication regimen, or an full Medication Therapy Management session with a patient in the pharmacy or at their home; each visit with a patient is an opportunity to listen to their concerns, better understand their difficulties, and offer reasonable and empathetic suggestions.

As a colleague recently shared with me, "Medication counseling is an acquired skill which takes not only knowledge but communication skills which must be patient specific and flexible based on patient feedback."

When talking with patients, the communication required involves training and tact, needs to be patient specific and dynamic enough to change in the middle of a counseling session based upon a patient's changing situation and feedback.  In essence, a skilled pharmacist will be in a position to identify with and understand their patient's fears and concerns in order to assist them effectively and appropriately with their medication regimen.
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