More than a number
Imagine this: the drive-through line is eight cars deep, all three registers are open, and all four phones are ringing off the hook. “Date of birth? Red 603? Basket 22? Script number 156? Insurance covered 22.50?” Sound familiar?
You have been running around the pharmacy all day putting up the new inventory, entering in prescriptions, counseling on inhaler technique, and administering what feels like 100 flu vaccines an hour. Don’t forget to call the physician about changing the antibiotic for the patient who has a cephalosporin allergy. Oh, and whatever happened to that prior authorization? Add that to the list as well.
Second scenario: it is 5:30 pm and you have already been at the hospital for 11 hours working up 20 patients, rounding with the medical team for 3 hours, counseling on 12 new warfarin regimens, and dosing vancomycin on 5 new admissions. Oh, and don’t forget, your journal club presentation is tomorrow and you are leading a topic discussion the following day. Phew! Sound familiar?
You then receive a call from the nursing station on floor 2 asking about antibiotic coverage for a mutual patient. The clinical dietician sees you in the hall and asks about a patient in Room 8715 whose blood glucose increased after their TPN was administered last night. Another thing to add to the list.
Empathy elevates patient care
No matter where you have been placed on rotation, the day can become busy rather quickly. From basket numbers and birth dates in an outpatient setting to room numbers and lab values in an inpatient setting, it can be difficult to distinguish one patient from the next if you are not paying close enough attention. In order to ensure the quality of patient care does not suffer, empathy is key.
Patients are more than just another prescription filled or a bump in SCr on the electronic medical record. In the moments when I actually stop and look at a patient as if they were someone’s grandmother or father, I have been able to sustain a higher level of empathy. They are no longer just the patient in 102 or the third person in line, but a person with real concerns who needs our help.
As a student pharmacist, you have been fortunate enough to be equipped with the resources to provide assistance. How cool is that? After just a couple of APPEs under my belt, I feel like this is a key component of avoiding burnout in the long run as a health care professional.
Lean in and listen
While I only have a limited perspective and experience so far in my career, I believe that the ability to listen will serve me well in all areas of pharmacy. Pharmacists interact with patients, providers, payers, and more on a daily basis. Through this unique position on the health care team, we must use our communication skills to not only speak up and make recommendations, but to lean in and listen intently. We have so many distractions that can make this difficult, but ultimately, the ability to listen will improve patient care. Listening shows empathy (see sidebar), which makes patients more than a number, and then allows for slowing down and reducing medication errors, thus improving patient care.
Preceptor Feedback questions
For our Preceptor Feedback author: While empathy improves patient care, it can require a lot of energy. How do you maintain energy levels throughout the day and still deliver excellent patient care? How do you ensure patients and/or co-workers feel heard?
Heather's tips: Three ways to instantly improve listening skills
1. Eye contact. Don’t forget to look up from your phone, tablet, or computer and connect with the person across from you. Whether you’re interviewing a patient or discussing possible therapy options with a provider, eye contact and subtle head nodding can indicate that you are actively engaged in the conversation.
2. Open body language. Be mindful of your body language. Are your arms crossed? This posture could come across as judgmental in some circumstances. After all, you want patients and co-workers to know that they can trust you. Your body language can do a lot of that communicating for you.
3. Smile. Smiling, when appropriate, improves confidence and provides a warm environment for the conversation.