Relationships Matter: The Clinical Pharmacist Patient Relationship

At first glance, the relationships between clinical pharmacists and patients may not be obvious. In the eyes of many patients, their pharmacist’s sole intention is to fill a prescription. The challenge with this short-sighted (and inaccurate!) notion is that there is so much that a pharmacist can do. If we consider the fact that many patients visit their pharmacies more often than they frequent their physicians’ offices – and the fact that a sizable number of those patients view a conversation with a pharmacist as preferable compared to speaking with a physician – it seems the untapped potential of this relationship is worth exploring.  

The importance of relationships between clinical pharmacists and patients 

One of the core tenants of any clinical patient relationship is trust. As healthcare’s top medication experts, pharmacists have so much knowledge, expertise, and empathy to give patients. A trusting relationship is the basis for productive consultations to improve medication management, increase the patient’s understanding and eventual adherence to their prescribed medications. When conditions are conducive, a trust-based relationship can occur between a pharmacist and a patient, and magic happens. Patients are more likely to adhere to their medication regimens, set healthy living goals, and be receptive to advice that will improve their quality of life.  

Challenges to building a strong clinical pharmacist patient relationship 

While most pharmacists are caring, empathetic clinicians seeking to improve patients’ lives, it’s not always easy to build meaningful relationships. Traditional settings make it difficult for clinical pharmacists to connect with their patients for two primary reasons:  

  1. High-stress, high-volume work environments: Many pharmacists struggle to balance priorities between ringing telephones, long lines of patients, managing staff and inventory, and dispensing medications. It’s no wonder they can’t find time to deliver meaningful patient care!  
  2. Transactional interactions: When a patient enters a pharmacy, they most often receive their medication(s), pay, and leave. Even with recurring prescription fills on a monthly basis, these transactional relationships between patients and their pharmacists do not promote long-term engagement. With the role of a pharmacist intimately linked to medication dispensing, relationships remain fleeting, with little time for in-depth consultations. Not to mention patients using mail-order medication delivery services, who forgo interactions with a pharmacist entirely. 

Benefits of building a strong clinical pharmacist patient relationship 

What incentive is there to create a system that promotes strong relationships between clinical pharmacists and patients? How do such relationships create better health outcomes for patients and deeper satisfaction for pharmacists? 

The foremost benefit of better pharmacist patient relationships is an increased level of trust. When patients trust their clinicians, they are more likely to be receptive to education and advice, improving their health literacy. Research has shown that when patients have better health literacy, their medication adherence improves, especially in Medicare-aged patients. 

Stronger pharmacist patient relationships also foster more productive consultations. An in-depth clinical pharmacy consultation can uncover medication-related issues and conditions that patients themselves may not yet be aware of. Under the watchful eye of a pharmacist, medication regimens can be proactively optimized during consultations to stop problems before they begin. 

Pharmacists also benefit greatly from stronger relationships with their patients. Most pharmacists chose to enter the profession to optimize medication regimens, counsel patients, and improve health outcomes, yet these have become a dwindling portion of their day-to-day duties. In recent years, clinicians of all types have suffered from burnout and career dissatisfaction—pharmacists are no exception. Building relationships with patients is the first step to digging pharmacists out of the professional challenges they’ve faced for so long. 

How to build a strong clinical pharmacist patient relationship 

The idea of building more robust pharmacist patient relationships is an easy one to get behind. However, devising a system to do so is considerably more difficult. At the core of this initiative is the decoupling of the pharmacist profession with medication dispensing. While medication dispensing is integral to our healthcare system, there are newer and more innovative ways to leverage our nation’s pharmacist workforce. 

When pharmacists are no longer tasked with dispensing and the associated administrative work, their true power is unleashed. They have the time they need to deliver true, comprehensive clinical services, focusing on the whole patient—not just checking boxes. 

One of the most common ways that pharmacists build relationships with their patients is through delivering medication therapy management (MTM) consultations. Patients qualifying for MTM are often chronically ill, suffering from multiple conditions. During an MTM consultation, the clinical pharmacist takes an empathic and educational approach to patient care. Together with the patient, they’ll review each medication and over-the-counter supplement the patient takes, to uncover any harmful interactions or previously undetected mistakes. Often, pharmacists can uncover otherwise overlooked health conditions or medication interactions that even the patient may not have been aware of. This comprehensive approach allows the pharmacist and patient to build a rapport and partner to improve the patient’s health. 

How Aspen RxHealth’s platform strengthens the clinical pharmacist patient relationship 

New platforms such as Aspen RxHealth enable clinical pharmacists to form stronger relationships with their patients than ever before. Now, pharmacists can work from the comfort of home while delivering high-quality consultations to patients nationwide. After a productive and pleasant consultation with an Aspen RxHealth pharmacist, patients can even choose to have future calls with the same pharmacist—fostering long-term relationships and better health outcomes.  

Aspen RxHealth pharmacists receive constant training and resources to help them provide the best level of empathetic patient care possible. Much of this training surrounds relationship building techniques, including motivational interviewing, a world-renowned approach to engaging patients in their health.  

Pharmacists, finally there’s a better way to use your skills and expertise! Learn more about what it’s like to be a part of the nation’s largest network of pharmacists. 

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