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Ask me! I'm a pharmacist

Jonathan Silcock

How do we ask questions? In our day-to-day business, we usually ask customers questions to confirm or obtain some important piece of information. In this situation, “important” means that we need the information to help give appropriate advice or dispense safely. The agenda is mainly professional and is often narrow. Typically, questions are direct, require simple answers and are of the WWHAM type: Who is the patient? What is the problem? How long has it been a problem? What action has been taken? What other medicines are taken?

Problem with closed questions

I recently requested some over-the-counter ibuprofen at a local pharmacy and was asked: Is it for you? Have you taken it before? Do you have asthma? Have you ever had an allergic reaction to this? My revealing answers were “yes”, “yes”, “no” and “no”. Mutual understanding to promote health it was not. Curiously, the assistant missed out “Do you have any stomach problems?”. Luckily I do not, but this illustrates one problem with simple closed questions: the danger of forgetting something or missing a piece of important information.

Without a preamble like “I just need to ask a couple of questions to make sure this medicine is right for you. Would that be OK?”, these questions also feel like interrogation. I instantly felt uncomfortable and unable to say, simply, “I’ve taken these lots of times before for occasional bad headaches and none of the warnings on the pack apply to me”.

Perhaps, given the chance, I would have said: “I’m a pharmacist. Leave me alone.” I hope not, but we should be sensitive to particular customer needs and remember that some will have health or medical training. The Government is also encouraging many people with chronic diseases to become “expert patients”. When time is short, direct questions may be the only way to do business. However, direct questions often do not help us understand things from a customer’s point of view and they rarely give the impression of caring (even when we do passionately care).

Patients notice how health professionals ask questions as this quote (regarding a hospital consultant) from a lay person I interviewed recently illustrates: “He is a very understanding man. He wants to know the answers, he needs the answers and he goes in depth, but his manner is excellent, he encourages you to respond you know, and he brings out the best, in other words. He knows the right questions and his person-to- person manner is very good.”

This may be typical of customers who view us, at our best, as not necessarily wanting to understand them better but “knowing the right questions to ask”.

Download the attached PDF to read the full article.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10986697

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