Empathy is a Foundation for Effective Communication

Advice from a pharmacist.

I’ve often asked my colleagues what frustrates them. Community based Pharmacists often complain of nasty patients. I’m amazed to find that they don’t realize that, quite often, these patients are sick, they’ve just spent a long time sitting in a doctor’s office, now they are being told they have to wait for their medicine, or their medicine is not covered under their insurance, etc. when all they want to do is go home and get into bed.

Every day when I counsel patients, I try to put myself in their shoes. It’s often not easy to do when a patient has a terminal illness or an addiction disorder, but at least respecting their point of view makes them more likely to open up. This ultimately leads to better care for my patients. This often is difficult when the workload gets overwhelming with competing demands and increased stress, but I find that keeping empathy in mind and demonstrating that I have the patient’s best interest at heart when working with my patients.

Sometimes it’s as easy as explaining the “why” that encourages them to talk more openly and eases tensions. Asking open-ended questions also is a great door-opener to gathering additional information. Actively listening is a key point to communication…focusing on the patient, maintaining eye contact and limiting interruptions. Finally, recapping key points often assists the patient in realizing I “get it”. I also try to recognize that, especially when it comes to medication, a good portion of my patients do not understand the medical jargon. I use ‘plain speak’ as often as possible to assure understanding.

When a patient understands the information I’m communicating, they are much more likely to be adherent to their medication therapy.

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