Collaborating with physicians isn’t always easy for a busy independent pharmacist. You’ve got competing schedules, a gaggle of patients expecting speedy service, and a business to run.
But these are relationships you can’t afford to neglect. Patients need physicians and pharmacists to have strong working relationships. A 2013 Canadian study found that both pharmacists and physicians agreed that collaborative practice could result in improved patient outcomes and adherence.
The study noted, “The primary role of the pharmacist is evolving from a focus on dispensing medications to taking increased responsibility for and facilitating optimal medication use through collaboration.”
So why does it feel like such a struggle? Researchers identified three major challenges to pharmacist-physician collaboration:
- Lack of time
- Lack of compensation for the additional communication
- The need to communicate with multiple physicians and pharmacists
Here are some tips for overcoming these barriers by strengthening your relationships with the physicians in your community.
1. Meet face-to-face
Meeting in person with physicians helps establish new relationships, and it’s an important tool to maintain those relationships.
In addition to your regular correspondence, set aside time to meet face-to-face once or twice a year with physicians to reconnect. Discuss any concerns the physicians you work with have that you could help address, and likewise explain your concerns and ways to address them together.
If it’s not practical for you to meet with every physician you share patients with, check your records to identify your top three or four prescribers. If you serve an unusually high number of patients with a specific health issue—like diabetes or cancer—and notice a high volume of prescriptions coming from a certain specialist, make it a point to reach out to them so you can work together to meet the specific needs of that population.
2. Share information
Like any other relationship, communication is key. Make sure your patient records are always in order so they can easily be shared with the patient’s physician.
According to the study, physicians are most interested in collaborating with pharmacists when it comes to insurance, pricing, and sorting out which medications are financially viable for a given patient. While there’s a growing push to make physicians more conscious about the price of the drugs they prescribe, most primary care providers simply aren’t as familiar with insurance plans and drug pricing as pharmacists.
For example, a patient’s insurance company may have a deal worked out with a manufacturer that makes the co-pay lower for one drug than for another comparable drug. Or another patient’s insurance requires specific approvals to pay for one drug but will pay for a similar drug without any steps. This is information physicians probably don’t have, but making them aware—and encouraging your patients to speak up—can affect how a doctor prescribes drugs for that patient.
3. Respect physicians’ time
Just like you show respect for physicians’ professional opinion, demonstrate that you value their time, too. Here are some simple ways to make other healthcare professionals feel like their time is valued.
- Don’t keep a physician on hold for an unreasonable amount of time. Instead, offer to call them back when you have time to talk.
- Similarly, don’t act irate if the physician doesn’t get back to you as soon as you’d like.
- Share changes in your pharmacy’s schedule with the physicians you work with, and take note of the times they set aside for phone calls and correspondence.
- Be flexible with the physicians’ preferences for how they’d like to be contacted.
Setting the tone for your relationship with your positivity and willingness to work as a team will encourage physicians to reciprocate.
4. Assume good intentions
Sometimes physicians may prescribe medication that may be inappropriate for a patient. Assuming good intent is a useful workplace skill for all sorts of professionals because it helps avoid defensiveness. Concluding something negative about a physician before you’ve even talked about the situation closes you off that person, who’s in turn closed off to you because you’ve immediately put them on the defensive.
Instead of using phrasing like “Why would you prescribe this for a diabetic patient?” try a softer approach: “I noticed you prescribed this medication for a diabetic patient, which usually isn’t recommended. Could you help me understand your thought process there?”
Giving the physician an opportunity to explain her reasoning turns the exchange into a collaboration rather than an accusation or a criticism. Maybe the doctor will say she made a mistake and prescribe a more appropriate drug. Maybe she’ll explain how she determined the benefits outweighed the risks for this particular patient. Either way, you’ve set the stage to work together for a solution rather than fighting about who’s right.
5. Don’t put your patient in the middle
Conflicting advice from a pharmacist and a physician can leave the patient in a precarious medical situation. And it’s certain to weaken your relationship with the patient’s physician when he hears your concerns from the patient rather than from you.
Take your concerns directly to the physician. If you believe a different medication is better suited for a patient than the one her physician prescribed, be tactful about the way you make an alternative recommendation.
6. Establish a referral program
Creating guidelines to how you and your network of physicians will refer patients to each other will strengthen your professional relationships.
By generating new business for each other, you’ll reinforce loyalty and trust. And you’ll be more likely to collaborate about the patients you’ve referred to each other.
Help physicians understand what you bring to the table by providing them with your marketing materials or outlining your best features when you meet with them. If you offer free delivery within two hours, your pharmacy is a great fit for patients who don’t have reliable transportation or have a health problem that makes running errands difficult. If you offer custom drug flavoring, pediatricians should consider sending their more discerning patients your way. You’ll get stronger referrals when physicians are confident you can really help their patients.
7. Be a resource
Make sure your patients’ physicians understand all the services your pharmacy offers, such as immunizations, condition-specific support, and education groups, or other programs that might benefit their patients. Also keep them up-to-date with the latest medicine updates. Much of their new knowledge comes from drug reps. You can be their medical resource for what’s new in the industry so they can make prescribing decisions that are best for their patients.
8. Get them on your list
If you send out holiday cards or other mass mailings from the pharmacy, consider adding physicians to your mailing list. It keeps your business fresh in their minds and the small gesture helps maintain relationships.
Also consider asking physicians to sign up for email updates. You might already have a general email newsletter as part of your marketing program, and providers can pass that information on to patients as they see fit. If you have the resources, consider starting a newsletter specifically for physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Nurturing your relationships with physicians in your community will pay dividends for you and for your patients’ health.
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