Interaction with patients a sine qua non for pharmacists

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NEW YORK — As retail pharmacy recreates itself as a first-line health care provider rather than simply a dispenser of medications, pharmacist engagement is assuming increasing importance.

Indeed, pharmacist-patient interaction is nothing less than the focal point of the industry’s effort to change its business model to one that stresses counseling services and medication therapy management.

Pharmacist Engagement


The good news is that the industry in general rates very highly with pharmacy customers on this score. In fact, data compiled by Boehringer Ingelheim for its Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse survey indicates that patients generally are highly satisfied with pharmacists and pharmacy staff.

The Pulse survey, which was based on 20-minute online interviews of 34,424 adult pharmacy customers conducted in October and November 2011, reveals that patients expect prompt attention and a concise dialogue with the pharmacist, and overwhelmingly they feel that is what they are getting.

However, the degree of engagement varies widely by pharmacy type, and it is here that drug chains have an opportunity to improve. While 17% of independent pharmacy customers surveyed said they interact with their pharmacist on every visit and another 22% do so often, only 8% of chain drug store customers reported engaging with their pharmacist on every trip, while just 12% do so often.

By contrast, nearly half — 47% — never or rarely interact with their pharmacist, far above the 28% for independent drug stores. Chain drug customers, in fact, interact with their pharmacists less than those of any other channel except, understandably, mail order/online.

Interestingly, although only 7% of mail order/online patients interact with their pharmacist on every occasion (3%) or often (4%), and a whopping 79% never or rarely do so, when those patients do engage with their pharmacist, their discussions tend to be longer. Among those pharmacy patients, 22% described their discussions as averaging more than five minutes, the highest percentage among all channels, edging out independent drug stores at 21%. Another 35% calculated their discussions as averaging four minutes to five minutes, compared with 37% for independents.

Length of Discussion with Pharmacist


With 17% of their customers spending more than five minutes and another 32% spending four to five minutes in discussion with their pharmacist, chain drug led both supermarket pharmacies and mass merchant pharmacies in length of time spent in conversation with patients.

While these time-length figures are obviously based on subjective estimates by those surveyed, they are nonetheless significant precisely because they represent the patient’s recollection: Perception, in this case, is the relevant reality.

What do these figures mean in terms of overall patient satisfaction with pharmacists and pharmacy staff? Overall, an impressive 87% of pharmacy patients described themselves as very (65%) or somewhat (23%) satisfied with their pharmacist and pharmacy staff. That figure is essentially unchanged from 2011, but down very slightly from 2010’s score of 89%.

The differences in satisfaction levels for the various pharmacy types are not dramatic. As usual, independents earned the highest scores, with 94% somewhat or very satisfied, followed by supermarkets with 91%. Clinics and mass merchants (88% each) and chain drug (87%) followed closely.

Mail order/online lagged somewhat with 82% of customers expressing satisfaction, but given the extremely low percentage of customers who interact with the pharmacists at all in this channel, and the fact that the interaction would not be face-to-face, that score appears respectable.

Chain drug pharmacy operators can take considerable satisfaction in the fact that 87% of customers surveyed expressed satisfaction with their pharmacists and pharmacy staff both last year and the year before. Moreover, the number who considered themselves satisfied with the counseling and in-depth conversation provided by their pharmacists was an impressive 89%, up from 86% in 2011.

On a closely related measure, chain pharmacists also scored well (85%) on their communication ability, defined in the survey as their use of language in providing patients with information about their medications. These performances would seem to be an important measure of the quality of pharmacist engagement and of the ability of chain drug pharmacy to deliver on its promise to be a trusted frontline health care provider.

It is worth remembering that pharmacist engagement reflects not only the availability and willingness of the pharmacist to interact with patients, but also depends on the degree of comfort and confidence the patient feels in discussing health issues with the pharmacist.

And that comfort, in turn, perhaps, reflects the readiness of the patient to perceive the pharmacist as a primary health care provider and to confide in him or her.

The Pulse survey yields some interesting insights on that score as well. Overall, pharmacy patients appear more comfortable discussing such issues as respiratory ailments or diabetes than they do discussing cardiovascular problems or kidney disease.


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