Patient-Centric Relationships: The Crucial Role Clinical Pharmacists Play

patient relationship

At first glance, the relationships between clinical pharmacists and patients may not be obvious. In the eyes of many patients, their pharmacist’s sole intention is to fill a prescription. The challenge with this short-sighted (and inaccurate!) notion is that there is so much that a pharmacist can do. If we consider the fact that many patients visit their pharmacies more often than they frequent their physicians’ offices – and the fact that a sizable number of those patients view a conversation with a pharmacist as preferable compared to speaking with a physician – it seems the untapped potential of this relationship is worth exploring.

Exploring the vital relationships between clinical pharmacists and patients

One of the core tenets of any clinical patient relationship is trust. As healthcare’s top medication experts, pharmacists have so much knowledge, expertise, and empathy to give patients. A trusting relationship is the basis for productive consultations to improve medication management, increase the patient’s understanding and eventual adherence to their prescribed medications. When conditions are conducive, a trust-based relationship can occur between a pharmacist and a patient, and magic happens. Patients are more likely to adhere to their medication regimens, set healthy living goals, and be receptive to advice that will improve their quality of life.   

This kind of trust between clinical pharmacists and their patients isn’t something that can be built overnight. It takes repeated engagements over the long-term to establish rapport, understanding, and empathy—the recipe for trust. Once this trust is built, it’s a formidable tool in the pharmacist’s arsenal when aiming to improve health outcomes.  

Trust in the relationship also allows pharmacists to more effectively educate patients, improving their health literacy. When considering that at least 88 percent of adults living in the US have health literacy inadequate to navigate the healthcare system and promote their well-being, it’s no wonder patients can be suspicious, confused, or sometimes combative when it comes to accepting health improvement strategies. 

That’s why platforms such as Aspen RxHealth are so effective in building strong, trust-based relationships between clinical pharmacists and patients. Aspen RxHealth allows for regularly recurring medication consultations where pharmacists can comprehensively manage patients’ entire medication regimen. As a result, pharmacists have improved career satisfaction, while patients live healthier lives—a win-win. 

Challenges in building a strong clinical pharmacist patient relationship

While most pharmacists are caring, empathetic clinicians seeking to improve patients’ lives, it’s not always easy to build meaningful relationships. Traditional settings make it difficult for clinical pharmacists to connect with their patients for several reasons:   

High-stress, high-volume work environments
Many pharmacists struggle to balance priorities between ringing telephones, long lines of patients, managing staff and inventory, and dispensing medications. It’s no wonder they can’t find time to deliver meaningful patient care! A recent investigation by USA Today uncovered that pharmacists’ work environments are worse than many of us ever knew. Between unattainable quotas, fatigue-fueled medication errors, and pharmacists being forced to work through health emergencies, it’s high time we as a nation and healthcare system do better by our pharmacists. Beyond the obvious unpleasantness of these work environments, they create an inherent danger. When trusting critical medications to pharmacists who are overworked, operating on insufficient sleep, experiencing a health crisis (or worse, all the above!), dangerous mistakes with patient medications can be made, resulting in serious injury or worse.  

Transactional interactions

When a patient enters a pharmacy, they most often receive their medication(s), pay, and leave. Even with recurring monthly prescription fills, these transactional relationships between patients and their pharmacists do not promote long-term engagement. This dynamic makes it easy for many patients to forget that the pharmacist on the other side of the counter is a doctorate-level clinician with unmatched knowledge and expertise on medication-related health challenges. With the role of a pharmacist intimately linked to medication dispensing, relationships remain fleeting, with little time for in-depth consultations. Not to mention patients using mail-order medication delivery services, who forgo interactions with a pharmacist entirely. The transactional nature of our current pharmacy models contributes to the high-stress, long hours, and unsatisfying work conditions described above. 

Limited recognition of pharmacist expertise

Unfortunately, most people don’t know the value that pharmacists can provide. Whether by patients or the healthcare industry at large, pharmacists are often viewed as secondary to physicians. While they play a different role than physicians, they are in fact better equipped to counsel and manage medication regimens, especially in chronically ill patients with multiple specialty medications. This lack of recognition is equally true within healthcare teams—pharmacists haven’t been given a seat at the table when it comes to interdisciplinary care teams. Fortunately, this paradigm is shifting. With more and more pharmacists joining platforms such as Aspen RxHealth’s Pharmacist Community, the industry is beginning to move toward pharmacist-led programs that give healthcare's foremost medication experts a place on patients’ care teams.


Benefits of building a strong clinical pharmacist patient relationship 

What incentive is there to create a system that promotes strong relationships between clinical pharmacists and patients? How do such relationships create better health outcomes for patients and deeper satisfaction for pharmacists?    

The foremost benefit of better pharmacist patient relationships is an increased level of trust. When patients trust their clinicians, they are more likely to be receptive to education and advice, improving their health literacy. Research has shown that when patients have better health literacy, their medication adherence improves, especially in Medicare-aged patients. With thousands of patients aging into Medicare eligible each day, and rates of chronic disease rising, there’s no better time than the present to tap into the power of pharmacists to improve patient care. 

 Stronger pharmacist patient relationships also foster more productive consultations. An in-depth clinical pharmacy consultation can uncover medication-related issues and conditions that patients themselves may not yet be aware of. Under the watchful eye of a pharmacist, medication regimens can be proactively optimized during consultations to stop problems before they begin. Stronger relationships enable pharmacists to take a personalized approach for each patient and design an individual care plan to meet the patient’s health needs and goals.  

The clinical benefits mentioned above also have larger macro effects downstream of individual patients. As the nation’s healthcare infrastructure shifts to better utilize pharmacists, we will see improvements in patient satisfaction, reductions in hospital readmissions, and lower healthcare costs as a result of a healthier population.  

Pharmacists also benefit greatly from stronger relationships with their patients. Most pharmacists chose to enter the profession to optimize medication regimens, counsel patients, and improve health outcomes, yet these have become a dwindling portion of their day-to-day duties. In recent years, clinicians of all types have suffered from burnout and career dissatisfaction—pharmacists are no exception. Building relationships with patients is the first step to digging pharmacists out of the professional challenges they’ve faced for so long. After all, pharmacists entered their profession to help people. They have a passion and desire for improving patient lives through medication optimization. Helping them create stronger patient relationships is an important step in helping them achieve this goal. New technology-enabled pharmacist careers are a great way for pharmacists to do what they love while maintaining the freedom and flexibility to be there for the most important moments in life with their loved ones.  

Lastly, health plans stand to benefit hugely from stronger clinical pharmacist relationships with patients. Due to the myriad health improvements unlocked by pharmacist-led programs, prudent health plans have already begun to deploy programs that leverage pharmacists’ power to boost patient satisfaction, quality scores, and Star Ratings. It becomes a perfect storm for health plans looking to better manage their populations while improving their bottom line. 

patient education

How to build a strong clinical pharmacist patient relationship 

The idea of building more robust pharmacist patient relationships is an easy one to get behind. However, devising a system to do so is considerably more difficult. At the core of this initiative is the decoupling of the pharmacist profession with medication dispensing. While medication dispensing is integral to our healthcare system, there are newer and more innovative ways to leverage our nation’s pharmacist workforce. Fortunately, new mail order pharmacy models such as Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drugs, or Amazon’s drone-delivered prescription service are allowing patients to get their medications more quickly and affordably, without leaving the comfort of home—a critical consideration for homebound seniors who live in rural areas, and those without transportation. These revolutionary models open the door for pharmacists to remove themselves from the responsibility of dispensing so that they can focus on the services that they are uniquely equipped to provide. They also underscore the importance of remote pharmacist models, as they eliminate the need for in-person interactions with pharmacists. This represents an important turning point where the centuries-long responsibilities of pharmacists can be lifted from their shoulders in a way that we’ve never seen before. 

When pharmacists are no longer tasked with dispensing and the associated administrative work of running a brick-and-mortar pharmacy, their true power is unleashed. They have the time needed to deliver true, comprehensive clinical services, focusing on the whole patient—not just checking boxes. By offloading responsibilities from pharmacists to pharmacy technicians, technology solutions, or even artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, we open the door for pharmacists to make their mark on the healthcare industry in a bigger way than ever before. 

Pharmacist-led medication therapy management programs

One of the most common ways that pharmacists build relationships with their patients is through delivering medication therapy management (MTM) consultations. Patients qualifying for MTM are often chronically ill, suffering from multiple chronic conditions that require costly specialty medications. During an MTM consultation, the clinical pharmacist takes an empathic and educational approach to patient care. Together with the patient, they’ll review each medication and over-the-counter supplement the patient takes, to uncover any harmful interactions or previously undetected mistakes. This differs greatly from the often-parental tone used by some physicians that can cause patients to feel as though they're being spoken down to. It’s a situation many of us have found ourselves in, and usually causes patients to shut down and ignore the poorly delivered but well-intentioned advice of their physicians. Conversely, pharmacists using an empathetic approach empowered by motivational interviewing can often uncover otherwise overlooked health conditions or medication interactions that even the patient may not have been aware of. This comprehensive methodology allows the pharmacist and patient to build a rapport and partner to achieve the common goal of improving the patient’s health. At Aspen RxHealth, we’ve heard countless stories from our pharmacists about how they’ve found potentially deadly drug issues or interactions that they were able to proactively prevent by conducting a thorough comprehensive medication review (CMR). 

How Aspen RxHealth’s platform strengthens the clinical pharmacist patient relationship 

New platforms such as Aspen RxHealth enable clinical pharmacists to form stronger, more meaningful relationships with their patients than ever before. Now, pharmacists can work from the comfort of home while delivering high-quality consultations to patients nationwide. After a productive and pleasant consultation with an Aspen RxHealth pharmacist, patients can even choose to have future calls with the same pharmacist—fostering long-term relationships and better health outcomes. Remote clinical pharmacists such as those in the Aspen RxHealth Pharmacist Community are trailblazing healthcare professionals, paving the way toward the future of the industry. As we have seen with the rapid uptake of telehealth services, patients value being able to virtually consult with a qualified healthcare professional. Now they can finally have in-depth, virtual conversations about their medication questions and concerns with an expert. 

Aspen RxHealth pharmacists receive constant ongoing training and resources to help them provide the best level of empathetic patient care possible. Much of this training surrounds relationship building techniques, including motivational interviewing, a world-renowned approach to engaging patients in their health.  

However, the training and resources offered by Aspen RxHealth go a step further. Aspen RxHealth pharmacists have access to a library of information and a team of experts to help them excel in all areas of their virtual practice as a remote pharmacist. Whether it’s personal finance related topics such as paying off student loans or deciding on the right health insurance plan for themselves and their families, or in-depth clinical education and reviews, Aspen RxHealth’s goal is to equip pharmacists as they successfully embark upon their own entrepreneurial adventures while ensuring they are adequately educated and informed along the way. 

A solution for health plans, clinical pharmacists, and the patients they serve

If you’re a burnt-out pharmacist looking for a more flexible and fulfilling role, you’ve found it. It’s time to join thousands of your peers who have already made the switch to the Aspen RxHealth Pharmacist Community and are enjoying their careers in ways they never thought possible. Begin the process here. The onboarding process is simple and can be completed in 24 hours or less! Then you’re ready to begin delivering high quality medication consultations to patients.  

Health plans looking for a competitive advantage in the race to improve Star Ratings, you’re also in good hands. The impact that pharmacists can make on heavily weighted CMS Star measures is remarkable and we’re proud to say that we’ve delivered multiple successful programs doing exactly that. Aspen RxHealth already collaborates with many of the nation’s top five health plans to deliver clinical programs that lead the class in efficiency, cost, and clinical outcomes. Learn more about what we can do for your members or drop us a line, we’d love to start the conversation.