Finding Time to Counsel Patients: Make It the Priority


Every community pharmacist has the long lines and phones ringing off the hook. But there are ways to find time o counsel patients even when it is busy.

Every community pharmacist has been there. The store is crowded, the phones are ringing off the hook, and there is a line to pick up prescriptions. But one patient is asking questions about his medication and another needs to be counseled about an antibiotic she is starting.

What is the best way for busy pharmacists to ensure they give each patient the time and attention needed for them to learn about their medications?

The key is to make counseling the patient your number one priority while they are there in front of you, said Stacey D. Curtis, PharmD, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, Gainesville.

“The person standing in front of you who needs to be educated becomes your number one priority throughout your day,” Dr. Curtis said.” The person the phone or the prescription that needs to be typed or reviewed then takes the second seat.”

Patient care must be the number one priority, and education is patient care, Curtis added. Education translates to better patient compliance and adherence to medication regimens, she added. “If patients are educated, we reduce healthcare costs and improve their quality of life.”

The key to ensuring that the person being counseled gets the undivided attention of the pharmacist is a properly managed workflow in the pharmacy, Dr. Curtis said. Managing time can be difficult when there are 300 or more prescriptions in the queue and the pharmacy is short staffed, she added. “I get it. I’ve been doing that for a long time.”

In addition to her position at the University of Florida, Dr. Curtis has been a community pharmacist for 19 years. She currently works at a big-box store in Gainesville that deals with a varied community that includes many with low health literacy. “You must greet them, acknowledge them, and observe their understanding,” she said. And it is not a matter of spending a set number of minutes with each patient, she stressed, because it depends on making sure they understand what they need to know before they leave.

In a well-managed workflow, everything needs to be taken care of in a timely manner “You don’t walk into a pharmacy knowing that your first day,” Dr. Curtis said. But if the prescriptions waiting to be checked have all been input correctly and only need verification, “then I am in good standing,” she said. “It is not about adding time to your day. It is more about really using your time to the best of your ability.”

“You also need the proper support to manage workflow,” she stated. Everyone in the pharmacy needs to be cross-trained so that they can fill in when someone calls in sick or if the pharmacy is swamped. Pharmacy staff must also be trained to understand that a pharmacist who is counseling a patient should only be interrupted when absolutely necessary, she added.

Few things hinder a pharmacist’s ability to function at their highest level of care as much as not having enough trained staff or pharmacy technicians, Dr. Curtis said. “That is the biggest impediment that we face today.”

At the University of Florida, Curtis teaches a professional practice skills lab with two other professors. It is a yearlong class teaching what a pharmacist needs to know in the day-to-day operations of a community pharmacy. It is a required course for all first-year pharmacy students. She also teaches a course on advanced topics in community pharmacy that in part how to manage workflow. “There is no book on managing workflow in a pharmacy,” she said. “We actually made up our own curricula.” 

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