An Honest Profession: How Community Pharmacists Can Maintain and Increase Patient Trust
By Braheim Knight, R.Ph. |
Every great relationship is built on trust. That’s true in personal relationships, business relationships and the relationship between patients and healthcare providers.
To maintain strong, trusting relationships with their patients, independent pharmacists must recognize the importance of building trust while leveraging that position responsibly to improve health and wellness.
Keep Customer Service Paramount
Customer service is one of the most important factors to patients in choosing a pharmacy. I’ve been in the retail pharmacy industry for 20 years; for 17 of those, I worked as a retail pharmacist before transitioning into the role of business coach. I’ll never forget the time a patient told me, “I walk past eight pharmacies to come and see you. I could go to any of those, but I come here because the customer service is phenomenal, and you all know me by name.”
The takeaway for independent pharmacies? Slow down. Take the time to educate and empower staff to make customer service a primary focal point. Take the time to listen, empathize and address patients’ needs with courtesy and professionalism. Demonstrate and reinforce the mantra that trust is earned and built through the little things every day.
Filling prescriptions safely and quickly is of obvious importance — but building trust requires a personal touch, as well. For community pharmacists, connecting with patients requires coming out from behind the counter. Patients with legitimate, important questions often are reluctant to disturb a pharmacist who appears too busy. Being engaged and maintaining a physical presence on the store’s front line creates opportunities to build a strong rapport with patients.
Of course, pharmacists can’t be in the front of the store all the time. Sometimes they have to work behind the counter. That’s why it’s vital to ensure that staff members are just as committed to strengthening patient relationships. It’s important for all staff — pharmacists included — to understand that something as simple as body language, tone of voice and demeanor can have a major impact on the trust patients feel toward the pharmacy. If a clerk or technician isn’t positive, upbeat, engaging, helpful and kind, the patient will automatically pull back.
Cultivating Trust in the Community
Many independent pharmacies have built a strong presence in their communities by serving generations of patients over several decades. They can increase this devoted patronage and trust within the community by seeking new ways to give back — supporting local events, conducting health fairs, and offering free blood pressure or cholesterol screenings, among others. This type of engagement can generate tremendous goodwill. Simply being accessible and visible within the community can go a long way toward building trust.
Independent pharmacists or their staff members can also consider leveraging social media to promote events and community-driven activities. One can also use these channels to encourage patients to speak with pharmacists one-on-one about any questions or side effects they might be having with their medication regimens. Remember that it’s of utmost importance to guard patient privacy, so make sure that all communication is done either over the phone or in-person.
Take a Proactive Approach to Care
Responding to a patient’s needs is essential, but a proactive approach to caring for patients is equally important when it comes to fostering a trusting environment. It’s an opportunity to show interest in the patient as an individual as well as concern for his or her health and wellbeing.
An ideal way to do this is by conducting adherence-check phone calls. Contacting patients on the third or fourth day of a week-long antibiotic regimen — when their symptoms may be improving, and they might be inclined to discontinue the medication — to remind them of the importance of finishing the prescription as directed, is an excellent way to fortify the “person first, patient second” approach. It’s also good business.
Personalization of routine refill reminders provides another opportunity to build trust. If the drug in question is a blood pressure medication, for example, the pharmacy can reference the patient’s most recent blood pressure reading and inquire how it has changed or ask if the individual has visited their physician since the last refill. This approach facilitates both goodwill and improved outcomes. It demonstrates to the patient that the pharmacy sees them as a valued individual with unique needs and circumstances.
Practice Active Listening
As a general rule of thumb, a good listener spends about 85 percent of the time listening and 15 percent talking. Pharmacists are accustomed to speaking — giving instructions, sharing advice, managing employees and handling administrative tasks.
But few community pharmacists take the time to practice the art of active listening. By listening to patients, pharmacists can learn from them. When patients feel that the pharmacist truly understands their personal health problems and cares about trying to manage or solve them, they will trust that the pharmacist has their best interests at heart.
To this end, there are important connections between trust and good health outcomes. Patients who trust pharmacists are more likely to take their medicines as directed and stay alert for potential side effects.1 And if serious side effects do occur, patients who trust their pharmacists may feel more comfortable talking about the problems they’ve encountered.
Caring for the Whole Patient
The benefits of trust can extend into opportunities to help patients improve their lifestyle. Many patients need medicines to treat chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Often, these drugs can help them manage the disease, but they can’t resolve the problem in the same way that an antibiotic cures a bacterial infection. Caring for a patient with a chronic condition requires a pharmacist to consider his or her entire needs.
To lose weight, lower blood pressure or control blood sugar, patients usually need to make major lifestyle changes, particularly around diet and exercise. Those who maintain a strong, trusting relationship with their pharmacists may be more likely to follow advice on eating healthier or getting in better shape.
Trust is earned, it’s not given. It’s something pharmacists must build upon every single day, because building that trust and that rapport ultimately leads to healthier patients and improved outcomes.
1. Albrecht, S. (2011, May 18). The Pharmacist’s Role in Medication Adherence. Retrieved 2017, July 26 from https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/the-pharmacists-role-in-medication-adherence