Medication non-adherence is a real problem in the healthcare industry today. For countless reasons, patients are not taking their medicine as prescribed. And it’s costing a lot more than they think.
A review in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed some startling statistics. Lack of medication adherence causes nearly 125,000 deaths per year and up to 10 percent of hospitalizations. From a financial standpoint, it costs the healthcare system up to $289 billion annually. While the issue generally rests with patient perception and opinion, it turns out pharmacists are not powerless in this situation.
Bruce Berger, PhD, offered his take on the problem in a recent Drug Topics article. “We haven’t changed the way we talk to patients,” he stated. “We’re stuck in an old paternalistic model of care where we tell people what to do and assume if we educate them that’s enough.”
But it’s not enough. Your patient has to know they are more than just an order waiting to be filled. That’s the importance of patient relationships. They are flesh and blood, and you are dedicated to helping them improve their quality of life.
The Importance of Patient Relationships and How to Make Them Stronger
Pharmacists are in a unique position in the healthcare industry. They have arguably the most influence on patient health outcomes — even more than a patient’s primary physician. Pharmacists tend to be more approachable. They don’t require appointments. Consultations are free. And when it comes to the medications their patients are taking daily, they are the experts. No one is better suited for the task of improving medication adherence. But how do you do it?
When it comes to their medications, patients often feel like they’re in the dark. Many of them come to their pharmacist with prescriptions from different providers. Maybe they have three scripts from their primary care physician, two from their endocrinologist, and two more from their pulmonologist. As a pharmacist, you are their last line of defense. You know whether those medications are safe to take at the same time. You know the potential side effects of each one, as well as the possible effects of the medications on each other.
But your patient probably doesn’t. Their doctor probably doesn’t, either.
As a pharmacist, your role in your patient’s health is more important than ever. Making sure that your patient understands their medication and adheres to their treatment plan is crucial. You have the power to educate and influence every customer that approaches your counter. And the most effective way to do that is to build a relationship with every patient.
But how? Let’s look at ways to earn your patients’ trust.
Relationships Are Built On Respect
Earn the respect of your patients by first showing them respect. Learn more about them and their circumstances, then approach them in a way that considers what you have learned. While no one is advocating for a ten-minute Q&A session on their first visit, you can learn a lot about a person by simply engaging in a little natural conversation. Refer to them by name. Ask them how their day has been. Ask if they have any plans for the weekend. The more you get to know your patients, the better you’ll be able to tailor your advice to their individual circumstances.
Plus, the more you learn and respect a patient’s beliefs, opinions, and feelings, the more likely they are to respect you and the information you’re offering. In an interview with Pharmacy Times, patient communication specialist Gloria Grice, PharmD, states, “Until someone gains respect for you, they won’t value what you have to offer them in terms of knowledge.”
In other words, people listen more when they feel like they’re understood. Talking to your patients doesn’t work nearly as well as talking with your patients.
Get Proactive with Patient Care
One of the best ways to build stronger patient relationships is to be proactive with their care. Taking care of needs is always important, but anticipating needs and confronting issues before they arise is equally essential. A proactive approach also shows your patient that you are taking an active interest in their health — that they’re not just another customer.
In a blog for AmerisourceBergen, Braheim Knight, R.Ph. offers an example of proactive care:
Contacting patients on the third or fourth day of a week-long antibiotic regimen — when their symptoms may be improving, and they might be inclined to discontinue the medication — to remind them of the importance of finishing the prescription as directed, is an excellent way to fortify the “person first, patient second” approach. It’s also good business.
Time is one of a pharmacist’s most precious commodities, but taking the time to be proactive with your patients is always worth it.
Step Into Your Patient’s Shoes
When you discover a patient isn’t adhering to their medication plan, it is easy to make assumptions. They’re probably just forgetting, right? Maybe they just need a reminder. It’s not always that simple. Maybe they don’t want to deal with the side effects of a drug they’re taking. Maybe they “feel fine,” and don’t feel like they need to take their medication anymore. Maybe they can no longer afford to refill it, and they’re just hoping they can get by without it.
You can’t solve the problem if you don’t know what it is. Reach out to your patient and find out what is keeping them from taking their medication as prescribed. Once you know what the issue is, you can work together with your patient to address it.
For many people, a pharmacist is the least expensive and most accessible healthcare resource available. No appointments are required, and the consultations are free. Pharmacists who dispense knowledge as as well as medication are necessary to improve population health. But for that knowledge to reach the right ears, the patient relationships have to be there.