A Tool to Teach Communication Skills to Pharmacy Students

Article excerpt

Objective. To develop a tool to teach pharmacy students assertive communication skills to use when talking with physicians over the telephone.

Design. As an assignment for their Communication Skills and Counseling course, students were asked to write a script involving a patient care issue or problem covering 3 different communication styles that could be used when contacting a prescriber by telephone: passive, aggressive, and assertive. Students worked in groups to write and act out the scripts for the class.

Assessment. Eight scripts were developed by students and rated by peers and faculty members. The script that received the highest ratings was used in the development of a multimedia educational CD.

Conclusion. The development of hypothetical scripts describing a drug therapy problem and illustrating the types of interactions between physicians and pharmacists while discussing the problem allowed pharmacy students to explore different communication techniques and improve their communication skills.

Keywords: communication, physician

INTRODUCTION

Pharmacists' move from having a medication-centered role to having a more patient-centered one has put more responsibility on pharmacists' shoulders to acquire new communication skills and knowledge. Whether pharmacists are dealing with patients and their families or with other health care professionals, they need to know how to interact with such individuals and how to handle situations that may arise. Patient counseling and patient-centered interaction are key elements to the pharmacist's role. The goal of pharmacists' changed role is to improve the quality of health care for patients. (1) With the enhancement of their communication skills, pharmacists' adoption of this changed role and the achievement of its goal could be accomplished.

The main reasons for pharmacists' difficulties in communicating with other health professionals include struggles for power, poor communication, lack of trust, and an unsatisfactory communication environment.2 Struggles for power and autonomy are the main obstacles in communications between pharmacists and other health professionals, especially since the new patient-centered role for pharmacists could be viewed as an intrusion into other professionals' roles. Physicians have noted that pharmacists sometimes give inappropriate information to patients, and provide counseling that is in conflict with the physician's advice, and that this scares patients especially when considering the potential consequences.3 Physicians sometimes feel pharmacists do not have the necessary knowledge about the patient, his/her condition, or management of the condition to offer health care services. Further complicating the situation, physicians may not agree to make all needed medical information available to pharmacists so they could provide the proper pharmaceutical care for patients. (4) All of these factors could result in a strained working relationship between key professionals that could negatively impact patient outcomes. (5) However, even if pharmacists suspect that physicians are not accepting of their recommendations, research suggests that physicians are receptive in most cases. Evidence from a number of pharmacy practice settings suggests that when pharmacists make suggestions to physicians for important changes in patients' drug treatment, pharmacists' recommendations are usually accepted and implemented. (6-7)

Interpersonal communication is a one-to-one interaction in which messages are generated and transmitted by one person and subsequently received and translated by another. (8) It can be verbal, nonverbal, or written. In their interactions with others, pharmacists need to be assertive. Assertiveness is a middle state between aggression and passivity. (9) Aggressive people win by dominating and intimidating others and promoting their own opinions at the expense of others' views. …