Inside: Patients may be reluctant to share embarrassing health issues – here’s what you can do to lessen the stigma.
When it comes to treating health issues, there are plenty of opportunities for patients to be embarrassed.
Whether a patient needs help finding a front-end product for a condition he considers embarrassing or filling a prescription for a condition that she might be shy about, embarrassment can be a hurdle for many patients when seeking treatment. If patients are ashamed about their condition they might neglect the issue, decide to not fill their script, or leave your pharmacy altogether.
Don’t risk losing patients to embarrassment. Here are nine things you can do to help patients who are embarrassed.
1. Have a consultation area
Put patients at ease by designating a private consultation area in your store. Make this an area where patients can discuss potentially embarrassing conditions or uncomfortable questions with you.
Create a space in your pharmacy with privacy, so patients feel comfortable speaking openly, without the fear of being overheard or interrupted. When patients know that you have this space, they’ll be more comfortable coming to your pharmacy with any embarrassing issues.
2. Approach the patient
Some patients might just be too embarrassed to approach you. Maybe they think their question is frivolous, or perhaps they feel uncomfortable interrupting one of your employees.
If a patient appears to be struggling or confused, make the first move. Start the conversation by asking if there is anything you can do to help, or just telling the patient that you would be happy to discuss the merits and features of various products.
Ask questions to find out why the patient is visiting the pharmacy. You may have to ask a few follow-up questions to get to the heart of the matter, so keep the questions non-judgmental. Even if a patient isn’t willing to open up right then, they will hopefully recognize they can come to you in the future.
3. Build a strategic front-end layout
Design your front end to minimize embarrassment.
Keep possibly embarrassing products, such as fungus cream, away from high-traffic aisles and waiting areas. That way, people can select their product without other patients walking around or standing nearby.
Also, make sure your sections are clearly marked with signs, so patients don’t have to ask for directions to sections of potentially embarrassing products.
4. Show empathy
Being empathetic with your patients can help make them feel less embarrassed.
Reassure patients by reminding them that everybody has to deal with embarrassing issues and that you’re here to help. By acknowledging you realize the situation is uncomfortable, you can take the pressure off.
Don’t try to break the ice by making a joke or poking fun. You might think it lessens the tension, but your patient might think you’re making fun of them.
If you’re comfortable, you can even share a story about how you’ve personally dealt with an embarrassing situation.
5. Use positive body language
Your body language can help make patients with embarrassing conditions feel more at ease.
When patients share information about a medical condition that might be embarrassing, make sure you don’t look surprised, or make any gestures that would signal that you’re uncomfortable. Instead, work on nodding your head, maintaining eye contact, and smiling while reassuring the patient that you can help.
On the other hand, negative body language will signal to patients that you are not really listening or aren’t invested in what they are telling you — which is hugely discouraging when they are sharing something that makes them feel vulnerable.
Avoid body language that signals you are “closed off,” like crossing your arms, fidgeting, or putting your head in your hands.
6. Don’t talk down
You’re coming into these embarrassing conversations with a lot more knowledge than your patients have. Resist the temptation to deluge them with information that they didn’t ask for.
Giving patients too much information may come off as condescending and give them the impression that you aren’t really listening to their problem.
If patients get up the courage to ask you about something embarrassing, they want a solution, not a lecture. Be direct and avoid using jargon to get them the answers they need quickly and pleasantly.
7. Actively listen
Awkward or embarrassing conversations are the perfect time to deploy your active listening skills.
In addition to using positive and open body language, you can show your patients that you are giving them your full attention by repeating what they’ve said. This practice also gives them a chance to correct or clarify and ensure that you’re on the same page.
Ask questions to make the conversation flow in both directions instead of putting all the pressure on your patient to convey what they are experiencing.
When the conversation is over, make a point to state the conclusion that you’ve settled on together and ensure your patient feels confident with the solution.
8. Don’t let the conversation stutter
Don’t let the conversation peter out before the patients’ problem has been resolved. Studies have shown that brief pauses in the conversation — sometimes thought of as “awkward silences” — actually do have a negative impact on how the conversation unfolds.
The more silences you run into, the more uncomfortable the conversation will become, and it will become more difficult to get to the root of the patient’s problem. And even if you do solve the problem, patients won’t walk away with a positive impression after a stilted conversation.
Use your active listening skills as a way to keep things moving.
9. Call for backup
Recognize that you may not always be the best person for a specific difficult conversation.
Especially if they are dealing with a sex-specific problem, a female patient may be more comfortable speaking with a female staff member and a male patient may be more comfortable speaking with a male staff member.
While it may not be possible in every situation, when you’re dealing with particularly a tight-lipped patient, see if you can match them up with a staff member they can speak to and feel less self-conscious.
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