If you asked 100 pharmacists, you’d probably get dozens of different answers. As an organizational consultant, I can understand this poignantly. We’re also supposed to “help” the organizations we serve, but that means something different to many consultants.
Here are 3 ways pharmacists “help” patients:
- Instructing: We give the patient the information we know they need in order to safely and effectively take their medications. If patients don’t behave appropriately, we can blame it on their inattention or ignorance.
- Empathizing: We try to feel what the patient feels, followed by a rational discussion of why those feelings may impede their medication therapy. If patients don’t respond to this, we can blame it on their unwillingness to deal with their emotions.
- Connecting: We simply let the patient know we’re available, give them phone numbers or e-mail addresses, and wait to hear from them. If we don’t, we can blame it on their aloofness or apathy.
Even in the short counseling window we have, we can do better. Edgar Schein, a well-known organizational consultant and professor, suggests helpers engage in what he calls a “humble” kind of helping.
To help in this way, we must consider what we may not know:
- What are the actual motives of both the pharmacist and patient?
- What do the pharmacist and patient expect from this help? Is there trust?
- Does the patient have the knowledge to follow the helper’s recommendations?
- What value does the patient place on the help (other than monetary)?
I’ll conclude with an example to consider.
Donna, age 35, is in your pharmacy receiving a new script for sertraline 50 mg. She’s casually dressed but appears fatigued and her emotions are blunted when you fill the script for her. You’re concerned she may not have a grasp on what this medication will do and how it will affect her.
How will you help her? What questions will you ask? What do you not know?
In my next article, we’ll revisit Donna and see how the “humble” approach to helping can lead to useful interactions with your patients.
Kraig Schell, PhD
Kraig Schell, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Consultation and Research Institute at Angelo State University in Texas, and also Affiliate Professor of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy at the University of Florida School of Pharmacy. He has taught, consulted, and authored dozens of continuing education articles for pharmacists on patient safety and engagement, as well as the application of psychological principles to safer and more effective care.