A good pharmacist needs to possess a scientific mindset, which is also a crucial component in surviving pharmacy school. However, becoming a great pharmacist requires a scientific mind and outstanding communication skills. With the roles of pharmacists changing to encompass more patient-centered care, communication, both verbal and written, is becoming a more important skillset for pharmacy students.
Three areas where communication skills are vital are: 1) counseling and interviewing patients; 2) interacting with physicians; and 3) documenting drug therapy, among other things. It is imperative that pharmacy students acquire the proper education to develop the most effective communication skills so they can effectively assist patients on the path to better health.
Communication with Patients
As pharmacists continue to move up on the tier of most trusted health care professionals, more opportunities will arise for interactions with patients. Through a collaborative and communicative relationship with patients, pharmacists employ their clinical knowledge and skills to provide the best possible care.
The two areas requiring communication skills with patients are patient counseling and patient interviewing.
Patient counseling is the opportunity to review patients’ medications, as well as address any questions or concerns patients may have. Pharmacists are the only healthcare professionals who go to school with a specific focus on medication; that is, how to take it, what to expect, side effects, and drug interactions.
During patient counseling:
Use concise information – The brain can only process so much information at once. In order to assure the patient is comprehending, do not provide unnecessary information. Make sure to only provide information about the patient’s needs.
Adjust your vocabulary – Use words that the patient can fully understand. Learning new, patient-friendly terms for medical terminology may be required.
Ask open-ended questions – This engages patients in the conversation about their personal drug therapy.
Employ teaching aids – Use print material as a supplement when trying to help a patient understand their situation. Keep the readability of the material to a reasonable degree for the general public.
At times, counseling opportunities will arise with patients who are self-treating a condition. In order to properly advise the patient, pharmacists will have to collect more in-depth information, which could include the following:
- Brief medical history
- Current medications
- Chief complaint
- Any concurrent problems they are experiencing
- The impact their problem has on daily activities
- Past treatment strategies
After collecting this information, the pharmacist can make a recommendation on the most appropriate solution, or they can refer the patient to a physician. If the pharmacist provides a possible solution, it is in their best interest to counsel the patient on appropriate use, when to expect symptom relief, potential side effects, and proper medication administration.
Interacting with Physicians
Often times, pharmacists must consult physicians regarding medication issues affecting patients, whether that be a less expensive drug alternative, dosing suggestions, or a simple prescription clarification. When conversing with a physician over drug therapy changes, all changes should be documented by hand or in the computer system. Communication interactions with physicians can be verbal (typically over the telephone) or written (typically through fax or email).
Below are a few recommendations for pharmacy students on strategies for communicating with physicians:
- Keep the conversation patient-focused.
- Provide the physician with meaningful background information.
- Concisely outline the problem the patient is experiencing with their drug therapy.
- Provide clinical medication recommendations and solutions.
Pocket Nurse offers SimScreen so that students can complete pharmacist/patient interaction scenarios independently while maintaining instructor oversight. Patient Counseling Record and Third Party Rx Logs allow for students to practice their written communication skills for prescription and counseling documentation.
Bailey Salvati is the Sales Intern at Pocket Nurse. She is a student at University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Communications, and she will be a senior in the fall of 2018.