A Step-by-Step Guide for Dealing With Difficult Pharmacy Patients

A Step-by-Step Guide for Dealing with Disgruntled Patients by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com

Inside: Turn difficult patients into loyal customers with these practical steps. 

You can’t please everyone. That might be a tired cliche, but it’s still true. It’s especially true for retailers, and even truer for pharmacies. A long wait time. A failed prior authorization. An outdated prescription. A system or technician error. Simply a bad day.

How you respond to the inevitably disgruntled patient can either bolster or batter your bottom line.

Not only can dissatisfied patients cost you their own business, they could potentially cost you the business of their friends and family. If they choose to share their experience with others, especially online, their negative review could harm your pharmacy’s good reputation.

When difficult patients are angry or disappointed, it can seem difficult or impossible to turn their negative experience into a positive one. By taking a few well-planned steps, you and your pharmacy employees can turn a negative experience into an example of excellent customer service.

Here’s a step-by-step guide you can use the next time you encounter a difficult patient.

Step 1: Remain calm

Just as fire feeds on fire, anger thrives on anger. Keep your cool to cool the flame. A calm, collected attitude is like a fresh douse of water, while an irritable attitude is like kindling. Even if you’re burning inside, make sure to keep it hidden. Your body language and facial expressions can communicate as much as words.

But keeping calm is easier said than done. Try these tricks to stay cool in the moment:

  • Assume the best
  • Hold off all judgments
  • Breath deeply
  • Take a moment to empathize

The step of empathy makes a world of difference. You don’t know this patient’s story. It could be a single mother managing meds for her disabled child. It could be recently laid off husband. It could simply be someone who just got a driving ticket on the way in. In any case, imagining they’re struggling and putting yourself in their shoes will help your anger subside enough to listen.

Step 2: Listen to the difficult patient

This is the simplest and sometimes hardest step, especially if the difficult patient is obnoxious or clearly in the wrong.

Even if you already understand the situation and even a solution, listen actively to what the patient says. Listening demonstrates you care.

Be aware of what signals your body language is portraying. Nodding your head, making eye contact, and keeping your arms down communicate complete and undivided attention.

When the patient finishes speaking, repeat back to them what you heard. This conflict strategy used by c-suite executives and ground-floor counselors alike does double duty: it verifies you understood them so you can address the real issue and it makes them feel heard, which makes them less hostile.

Step 3: Identify and acknowledge the problem

Once you’ve gathered all the information about the situation, the next step is to identify the problem and acknowledge any mistake you or your employees may have made.

Work with the angry patient to identify the issue and pinpoint what upset her. Once you’ve determined the issue, acknowledge the mistake. Sometimes, simply recognizing that someone messed up can repair the relationship with your difficult patient.

Don’t forget to apologize for any inconvenience it caused her, and say thank you for her business. These small gestures will help repair the damaged relationship by letting the upset patient know you really do appreciate and care about keeping her happy.

But what if you and your staff did nothing wrong?

That’s tricky, but the key is to never blame the patient. Take a cue from politicians who want to avoid responsibility. Use passive words that never indicate who’s responsible but that sum up what wrong.

Step 4: Offer a solution

Don’t let the issue go unresolved. Suggest ways to fix the problem that both solves the issue and satisfies the patient.

Going out of your way to provide a solution demonstrates to patients that you value their business. But it also does more than that. Studies have shown that in the aftermath of a problem-resolution, customers have more trust in you than they had before a mistake was made. Now, they know you’ll work to take care of their needs in any situation.

After you fix the problem, consider offering a small gesture of compensation, such as a discount off a front-end purchase. This can help smooth over any leftover hurt feelings and rebuild your credibility with the difficult patient.

Step 5: Fix it for the future

Resolving the issue isn’t the end of the matter. Take time afterward to implement a permanent change to your operations that will prevent the same mistake from happening in the future. That might mean updating to your pharmacy’s procedures, adapting your workflow, or investing in new technology.

For example, maybe that long line of patients is a sign you need to hire another staff member to handle the increased workload. Or, if wait times for pharmacist consultations have ballooned, consider adding automation so that your staff has more time to focus on duties robotics can’t do.



A Member-Owned Company Serving Independent Pharmacies

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy-side of their business. Founded and run by pharmacists, PBA Health serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, wholesaler contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, and more.

An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products — offering the lowest prices in the secondary market.


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Elements is written and produced by PBA Health, a buy-side solutions company.

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