Clinical detachment vs. personal touch in pharmacy


Pharmacists must walk a careful line in the practice of ambulatory care pharmacy. Here are some things to think about.

Oluwole WilliamsIt takes a mix of clinical detachment and cautious personal attention to respond to patient needs in ambulatory care pharmacy. While paying close attention to a patient’s need, when should a pharmacist put on the brakes? And when could clinical detachment be misinterpreted as lack of caring?

Patients presenting to the pharmacy bring baggage beyond their pharmaceutical and medical needs. These personal needs and challenges may pose an additional responsibility to their pharmacists and place a demand on the pharmacist’s tact and personal communication skills.

An unemployed patient, a patient grieving the loss of a loved one, a patient recently involved in an automobile accident, a young jilted teenager, a woman who only yesterday lost a pregnancy, or a hurting, unappreciated police officer are just a few examples of the many types of patients who may show up at the hospital community pharmacy.

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Necessary attitudes

In response to the drug-therapy needs of such patients, the pharmacist must maintain:

  • An understanding, compassionate, but unemotional attitude.

  • Patience and calm in the face of irritable remarks or behavior.

  • A cheerful mien, willingness to listen, and appropriate feedback to the patient’s complaints or narration of symptoms.

  • Professionalism, particularly when imparting critical drug or health information.

  • Respect for the need for privacy and clarity.

  • A style of eliciting information that does not appear prying or unduly curious.

  • A clear clinical distance in face-to-face conversation with patients, to reduce the possibility of droplet infections or direct hand contact with nasal or oral secretions.

For the pharmacist

Mental health. Pharmacists must be vigilant and self-reflective, noting when the pressures of their careers may be taking a toll on their mental health. Intense competition for prescription sales in the marketplace causes community pharmacy practice, in particular, to place on the pharmacist an enormous demand for the personal touch in interactions with patients. If care is not taken, the drive to meet sales goals and achieve profitability may turn a pharmacist in any practice setting into a zombie.

Couple that with this era’s increasing population of patients living with psychiatric disorders, and it seems clear that pharmacists would do well to read and digest literature on real-life clinical and behavioral approaches to patient care.

Pharmacists should not be ashamed to seek therapy if necessary.


For the patient

Financial assistance. There are many instances in which pharmacists have personally made financial sacrifices for the needs of their patients and the patients have responded with embarrassing or inappropriate forms of appreciation. Such acts of kindness must not be extended for too long, to prevent the patient from becoming an emotional drain on the practitioner.

Pharmacists should actively seek opportunities to obtain and share resource information relevant to prescription coverage, particularly by certain medical philanthropies, as a means of assuaging patient’s needs, particularly for those living with chronic conditions such as HIV, diabetes, hypertension, and asthma/COPD. This is one of the ways in which pharmacists can maintain a caring approach toward patients while retaining a professional detachment as providers of pharmaceutical care.

See also: Beyond the four walls: Professional alternatives for pharmacists

Educational resources. Pharmacists may refer patients to educational resources online or direct patients to agencies responsible for the monitoring or care of certain chronic disorders, enabling the patients to benefit from expert opinions that the pharmacist cannot adequately provide in the time allotted for community pharmacy practice.

Pharmacists can thus address patient’s needs without feeling that insufficient attention has been paid, while the impression of caring or a direct personal touch is not lost on the patients.

Altruism. As custodians of prescription medicines, pharmacists provide a unique service to the public and the hospital community. Patients and other healthcare practitioners such as nurses, medics, dieticians, dentists, physiotherapists, and lay staff all rely on pharmacists to furnish them at any moment with information on any prescription drug.

In responding to the needs of these people, the pharmacist is required to demonstrate compassion and professional etiquette, notwithstanding his/her own personal needs or challenges. It is a professional duty that must be borne ethically and with dedication to the public good.

Oluwole Williamspractices pharmacy in the Philadelphia, Penn. area. Contact him at

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