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On December 15, 2016, The Chicago Tribune published its findings on an investigation that tested 255 pharmacies and their patient counseling practices. The study found that 52% of these pharmacies (both chain and independent) neglected to warn patients of potential drug interactions that could have harmful effects. The Tribune also found that the independent pharmacies in this study missed these adverse drug interactions 72% of the time. Beginning on September 1, 2017, Illinois pharmacies were required to offer verbal patient counseling to new patients, recipients of a new medication, or patients whose medication dispensing method has changed (dose, strength, administration, or directions for use).
The Chicago Tribune also states, “The Tribune study, two years in the making, exposes fundamental flaws in the pharmacy industry. Safety laws are not being followed, computer alert systems designed to flag drug interactions either don’t work or are ignored, and some pharmacies emphasize fast service over patient safety.” As they work to keep business afloat and stay ahead of the workflow demands, independent pharmacies may not offer patient counseling in the rush, especially if it’s not legally required in their state. Regardless of whether verbal counseling is required in your state, all pharmacies and patients can benefit from a few extra minutes of face time at the cash register. Your pharmacy’s computer alert system can be a key player in following your state’s patient counseling requirements.
Community pharmacists should be able to set up alerts within their management software that prompts the user to offer counseling, whether it’s a new prescription or a renewal. Check the settings within your software and update them according to your state’s standards (or your own!). Also, talk to your staff and encourage verbal communication with all patients. A prompt from your system may “prompt” a life-saving conversation from your patient.
Pharmacies should offer multiple forms of counseling, not just verbal counseling. Perhaps your patient doesn’t want verbal counseling. Make a note of their refusal in their patient profile, print out the counseling details on their medication, and include it with the rest of their prescription, instead. Dan Phillips, a pharmacist in Eldorado, Illinois, says that offering verbal counseling has always been the norm at Beck’s Drugs. When his patients say no, he finds printed counseling sheets to be a better alternative. “It’s always good to put something in their hands,” says Dan. “As they say, ‘The spoken word is like the air, but the printed word is always there.’” Companies like MedsOnCue and Meducation provide simplified, straightforward patient education that pharmacists can use to complement theirs.
Another option for patients is private counseling. A patient may refuse counseling at the counter if their condition is sensitive, so many pharmacists offer a private counseling service in a separate room away from the counter. If you think your patients would benefit from private counseling, see if your pharmacy software allows you to access your patient’s profile from a device that can be moved away from the counter.
Don’t let your hard work go unnoticed! Proof of your pharmacy’s consistent counseling is necessary for audits, accreditation, and potential liability issues. Make sure you have access to all your data and can easily compile it into a report that displays all your counseled patients within a specific period.
Patient counseling requirements may vary by state, but you can’t deny its impact. Show your patients how you care and how you stand out from the large chains by educating them on potential symptoms or dangerous interactions. An extra few minutes at the pick-up window may lead to a life-saving resolution. Build your patients’ trust and loyalty through a conversation.