In addition to a current knowledge of pharmacotherapy, pharmacists need to have the knowledge and skills to provide effective and accurate patient education and counseling. They should know about their patients’ cultures, especially health and illness beliefs, attitudes, and practices. They should be aware of patients’ feelings toward the health system and views of their own roles and responsibilities for decision-making and for managing their care.
Effective, open-ended questioning and active listening are essential skills for obtaining information from and sharing information with patients. Pharmacists have to adapt messages to fit patients’ language skills and primary languages, through the use of teaching aids, interpreters, or cultural guides if necessary. Pharmacists also need to observe and interpret the nonverbal messages (e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, body movements, vocal characteristics) patients give during education and counseling sessions.
The pharmacist must keep in mind that it is his or her responsibility to help patients achieve desired health outcomes. Communication skills of pharmacists can facilitate formation of trusting relationships with patients. An effective communication process can optimize the chance that patients will make informed decisions, use medications properly, and meet therapeutic goals. Thus, here are some active listening tips for the patient interview process:
- Stop talking. You can’t listen while you are talking.
- Get rid of distractions.
- Use eye contact to show you are listening.
- React to ideas rather than the person.
- Read nonverbal messages.
- Provide feedback to clarify the message. This shows that you listen and are trying to understand.
Assessing a patient’s cognitive abilities, learning style, and sensory and physical status enables the pharmacist to adapt information and educational methods to meet the patient’s needs. A patient may learn best by hearing spoken instructions; by seeing a diagram, picture, or model; or by directly handling medications and administration devices. A patient may lack the visual acuity to read labels on prescription containers, markings on syringes, or written handout material. A patient may be unable to hear oral instructions or may lack sufficient motor skills to open a child-resistant container.
In addition to assessing whether patients know how to use their medications, pharmacists should attempt to understand patients’ attitudes and potential behaviors concerning medication use. The pharmacist needs to determine whether a patient is willing to use a medication and whether he or she intends to do so.
The meaning of the message is influenced by the receiver’s perception of the message. Therefore, it is important to remember the following points when communicating with others:
- Always anticipate different perceptions in the communication process.
- Try to be aware of stereotypes you hold that may influence your perception of others and also be aware of stereotypes others have on you.
- Ask for feedback from the receiver about how well your intended message was received.
- Provide feedback to the sender to check your perception of the message and make sure you understood correctly.
- ASHP Guidelines on Pharmacist-Conducted Patient Education and Counseling. 2011.
- Tindall, William N, Robert S. Beardsley, Carole L. Kimberlin. Communication Skills in Pharmacy Practice (fourth edition). Baltimore, Maryland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania : Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2003.