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Are You Making These Common Mistakes During Patient Consultations?

Do’s & Don’ts: 5 Tips for a Successful Patient Consultation by Elements magazine |

February 19, 2019

Inside: These common mistakes could be affecting your patient consultations and your pharmacy business. Learn how to fix them.

Patient consultation is a crucial skill for pharmacists and a hallmark of the independent pharmacy model. Discussing health conditions, prescription medications, and lifestyles with patients is the best way to help them make smart decisions. Saying too little can leave your patient confused. Saying too much—or just saying it the wrong way—could cause problems.

A proper consultation is essential to a meaningful dialogue with patients that leaves them feeling satisfied and secure that their health is in capable hands. Doing this well helps your independent community pharmacy stand out from big box and national chain pharmacies and encourages patient loyalty.

Yet even with years of practice, some pharmacists still have weaknesses when it comes to patient consultations. Here are six consultation mistakes you might be making—and how to fix them.


The mistake: Overexplaining the simple things

Pharmacists are highly educated and knowledgeable. But the breadth and depth of your knowledge can become a problem if you don’t edit yourself in conversation.

Patients may roll their eyes when you start into a two-minute lecture on the exact mechanisms that make their medications work, but the risk is greater than just boredom. Giving patients too much information makes it harder for them to accurately recall the most important details.

The fix: Be concise

Spend less time on the science of the situation and more on the action items. Identify the most important takeaways from the consultation and focus the discussion on that. That could mean warning a patient about potential side effects and when to call the doctor, showing them how to correctly measure or administer a dose, or outlining when to take each medication.

Send patients home with written instructions they can reference later. Then encourage them to contact you if they have more questions. Patients who are interested in the bigger picture may want you to break it down for them, but wait until they ask before throwing unnecessary information their way.


The mistake: Oversimplifying the complicated things

Overexplaining can be confusing to patients, but oversimplifying can be an even bigger blunder. Omitting important information, or assuming your patient already knows it, can mislead your patient and potentially lead to misuse or non-adherence.

The fix: Vocalize major warnings

For example, if a patient isn’t supposed to drink alcohol while taking a medication, don’t rely on the bottle directions to relay that—tell them specifically. Other common examples include wearing a medical ID bracelet while taking Metformin or taking extra sun precautions while using retinoids. Hearing the warning out loud will emphasize the importance and make it easier to change their behavior.


The mistake: Using technical jargon

It’s easy to forget that not everyone understands the medical shorthand you may use every day. Too much specialized pharmaceutical terminology may confuse your patient. The Department of Health and Human Services lists “use of unfamiliar scientific and medical jargon” as one of the four major reasons that make health information difficult for patients to understand.

The fix: Use plain language

You want patients to leave the consultation feeling confident in how to properly take their medication, and with a full understanding of what their prescription is for. Speaking clearly and simply will also leave patients feeling satisfied with the customer service they received. Help your patients understand any problems, concerns, or solutions by turning the technical jargon into patient-friendly language.

When possible, the HHS recommends using everyday examples to help patients understand what you mean in less abstract terms. When you have to introduce a medical or pharmaceutical term that doesn’t have an easy synonym, be sure to explain what the word means.


The mistake: Using loaded words

Speaking in technical jargon is one thing, but even simpler health terms can put up a wall between you and the patient. For example, referring to something as a “dysfunction” or “inadequate” may feel like a personal dig. When patients feels judged, they’re less open to your advice and less likely to open up to you in the future.

The fix: Watch your phrasing

This list provided by the National Patient Safety Foundation® (NPSF) identifies some words to avoid and offers alternatives. Instead of “dysfunction,” say “problem.” Instead of “adequate” or “inadequate,” say “enough” or “not enough.”


The mistake: Rushing through a consultation

Every patient is different, and so is each consultation. Some patients need more time than others to comprehend treatment plans or to better understand their newly prescribed medications. Rushing through a consultation may make your patient feel unappreciated, or worse, confused.

The fix: Take your time

As an independent community pharmacist, you already know the importance of providing one-on-one counseling with your patients. Continue to maintain personal relationships and be attentive to the needs of your patients to help make each consultation successful.


The mistake: Not soliciting questions

Sometimes patients are hesitant to ask questions. They may worry about taking too much of your time, or they may not see a natural point in the conversation to ask about their concerns. More assertive patients may speak up, but don’t assume silence indicates full understanding.

The fix: Invite questions every time

End each consultation by asking, “Do you have any other questions about this?” This provides a concrete opportunity for the patient to voice any concerns and leaves everyone feeling more confident. It also shows that you’re interested in their well-being, not just parroting the instructions on the label.


Perfecting your patient consultations starts with addressing common errors.

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