Talking to patients is an important part of a pharmacist’s job, and, as in any customer-service interaction, can occasionally subject a pharmacist to rude or unreasonable behavior. While it’s natural to feel upset when customers are irritable or impatient, the most effective way to defuse the situation is to act in a professional manner and focus on the problem, not the behavior.
“If someone comes in angry and rude, it’s easy to get angry, too,” says Marvin R. Moore, PharmD, owner of The Medicine Shoppe in Two Rivers, WI. “But that’s not going to make the situation any better. I tell my staff, ‘Don’t throw fuel on the fire.’ When a patient is rude, take a step back. They are probably having a bad day.”
It’s rarely personal, says Moore, so there’s no need to get defensive.
“One thing I’ve learned from dealing with people over the years is that rudeness is often due to something else that happened to them that day,” he says. “They just came from the doctor’s office after a long wait or got unexpected news. This is sometimes the last stop on a rough day.”
Patients may also act inappropriately if they don’t feel well and find it difficult to wait, or if they feel anxious about the prescribed treatment or how to pay for it.
“Patients may be cranky and impatient as they enter pharmacies, especially when long wait lines are present,” says Nathaniel M. Rickles, PharmD, PhD, BCPP, associate professor of pharmacy practice at University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in Storrs.
While it’s not possible to avoid every possible rude patient encounter, here are some things pharmacists can do to reduce how often they occur and react appropriately when they do occur.
Pharmacists should develop strategic line control and crowd control practices and listen carefully to each patient’s needs, says Rickles, noting that after waiting in line, all patients rightfully expect to have all of their questions answered thoroughly. How you answer those questions matters. After listening to the patient’s concerns, try to understand the problem from his or her perspective.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, empathy can be the most effective way to manage the situation, says Roberta Cava, a customer service consultant and author of Dealing with Difficult People. Ignore the rude language and try to sort out the problem.
“Assure them that you will do your best to help them,” says Cava. “They have come to you for advice and help. Do your best to try to understand what they want from you.”
To clarify concerns, Cava suggests using language that employs the patient’s own words. Use phrases such as, “It sounds as if the problem is...” and, “Is that what you mean?” to show you are working to understand their concerns. The feeling that someone is listening to them and understands their concerns is sometimes all that’s needed for patients to feel less irritable.
Cava also suggests saying something like, “I don’t blame you for being upset. I would be too if that had happened to me.”
If appropriate, apologize in an empathetic way, without admitting fault. A statement such as, “I’m so sorry you are experiencing this problem,” neither shirks nor accepts blame, but can go far to soothe an unhappy customer, she says.
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