Why pharmacists need to take the lead in listening

Alan_Willson_web2By Dr Alan Willson, a director of 1000 Lives Plus

There is a growing sense that NHS organisations need to become more skilled at listening to patients, families and citizens, to understand what people really want and need from their healthcare services.

In NHS Wales we are looking closely at this issue, supported by a new white paper from the national improvement programme, 1000 Lives Plus. The Listening Organisation looks at the benefits that can be gained from ‘listening’ and suggests some high level ways to ensure our working culture is centred on patients.

One of the key points of the paper is that everyone has to be involved in listening to patients – and this includes pharmacists in the many vital roles they have throughout the system.

For pharmacists based in hospitals and other large organisations, listening will need to be a team exercise. Do we deliver drugs to patients in the best way best for them? This example from the white paper highlights a failing in the dispensing of medication:

“The drugs round was done after breakfast so my mother was unable to take her Alendronic acid which needs to be taken before food. When she refused to take it after food the nurse wrote on her notes ‘patient refused medication’. My mother asked her to change this as she wasn’t refusing, just informing the nurse that it was important to take this drug on an empty stomach. No attempt was made to change the timing of this.”

This is a situation where pharmacists could have taken the lead. Maybe ward staff needed to be better informed about the requirements for giving out that particular drug. As pharmacists, should we want to know why patients are refusing medication? In situations like this, could we intervene to make sure patients are getting better treatment?

It’s a different matter for pharmacists working out in the community, but there are similar challenges. It’s well known that pharmacists give out important health advice every day, but are we listening to the people we serve? Do we know what they value most about our services? Do we know how we could improve to make the experience of using our pharmacies even better?

We are all under pressure to meet targets and achieve financial balance – whether that’s the drugs budget for a hospital pharmacy, or in our own business on the high street. But ultimately, becoming a listening organisation will be of benefit to us – we can stop doing the things that add little value to the experience of patients, we can prevent wastage, and we can improve care.

And it will also ensure healthcare remains focussed on the people being cared for. It will help staff see patients as people, first and foremost, and will lead to a healthier relationship between us and the people we care for.

The new 1000 Lives Plus white paper, The Listening Organisation, is available online.