Good communication skills are vital in a pharmacy setting. Tess Fenn considers how pharmacy technicians can build on them to achieve better outcomes and empower patients

I recently attended an excellent day that saw the launch of the ‘Me and My Medicines’ campaign – ‘It’s OK to ask’ – and the Medicines Communication Charter 2017. The charter has been developed by a patient-led project and is supported by Leeds North Clinical Commissioning Group and the School of Medicines Optimisation and it focuses on improving the way we talk to patients about their medicines.

Empowering patients

The charter helps us all – patients and healthcare professionals – to structure our conversations to empower patients to ask about any concerns they may have about their medicines. Its purpose is to help patients, or their carers, voice any issues they may have so that they do not leave a consultation with any unresolved medicines-related issues.

One particular aspect of the charter is: “We will share honest and clear advice and support decisions.”

So how can we implement this into our daily work and interactions with patients? Firstly, it goes without saying that good communication skills are a real asset but how do we judge our own communication skills or be sure that we are communicating effectively? Do we reflect on how we initiate and start our conversations to allow for open and honest communication? We probably don’t and so let’s do this now by asking ourselves some key questions:

Do we create an environment of discovery and curiosity and try to learn as much as possible about the other person, their point of view and beliefs, their values and priorities?

When most people think about communication it is usually speaking that first springs to mind. However, being able to listen is a large part of effective communication. It is also about being able to listen to what the other person is not actually saying but is communicating through non-verbal behaviours.

Do we listen attentively and give the person an opportunity to tell us their concerns and queries, letting them talk until finished, or do we interrupt and rush the conversation? Do we show the person that we have heard and understood? Do we acknowledge the person’s feelings and show empathy?

Do we communicate using language that the other person understands? One of the biggest barriers to effective communication is the use of jargon as not everyone in the conversation is aware of the word’s meaning. This also refers to using complex medical or pharmaceutical terminology. The potential for misunderstanding is huge. This not only makes it difficult for people to communicate their concerns but has the potential to lead to adverse consequences to their health and wellbeing.

Until these basic communication features are in place it will be challenging to have meaningful patient-centred conversations that support shared decision-making.

So, please do take this away and reflect on the many daily conversations you have with patients and their carers and let’s empower everyone by sharing the ‘It’s OK to ask’ message.

By doing this you will have supported your professional responsibility to do the best you can for your patients. You will also be showing how you put the standards one, two and three of the GPhC standards for pharmacy professionals into practice.

Until these basic features are in place it will be challenging to have meaningful patient-centred conversations

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