How to build your presence
Staying competitive means sticking in patients’ minds. So how can you make the right impression?
All successful businesses require you to make a positive impact on the people who use your services. While pharmacy may not demand the same stage presence as some other professions, a pharmacist needs to create a trusting relationship with their patients that encourages them to return.
Yvonne Tuckley, learning and development manager at Numark, says creating a positive presence in patients’ minds is important in pharmacy, because of the competition within the industry. “You want to stay ahead of your competitors and anything you can do to portray the right image of your pharmacy and the team has to be positive,” she says.
The way pharmacists conduct themselves can, in turn, make patients more likely to follow the advice you give them, according to consultant clinical psychologist Dr Gillian Butler. “If you hand something out and say, ‘take these three times a day with a meal’, you’re less likely to feel like you have a link with that person than if you say: ‘Do you know how to use these? What fits with your lifestyle?’,” she says.
According to research, pharmacy is regarded as one of the most trusted professions. However, the same research, by the University of Wolverhampton, suggested pharmacists lack confidence in their own abilities, which could present barriers when dealing with patients.
Jane Devenish, a pharmacist who works on healthcare services and standards for the Well chain, believes confidence has a big role to play.
“You see a huge number of people within pharmacy, and your patients make snap judgements about you based on your professionalism,” Ms Devenish says. “When you’re giving patients advice, they can either take it, dismiss it, or they can ask somebody else.”
So how can pharmacists develop this trusting relationship with patients to ensure they take your advice seriously?
Put patients first
Neal Patel, head of corporate communications at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, advises that the first thing to do when creating a presence is to be a great pharmacist. A successful reputation often comes from word of mouth, he says. “If you’re offering great advice and a great service, then your patients will become your biggest advocates.”
That great service means ensuring patients are always at the centre of the decisions made within the pharmacy. “They are your first concern. Do everything to meet their needs,” says Mr Patel.
But meeting patients’ needs does not always mean granting their every request. Instead, it is the ability to have conversations with patients about their healthcare and what the best course of action is for their symptoms.
“Every prescription is an opportunity to have a discussion with the patient,” says Mr Patel.
Listen to patients
An important part of putting patients first is listening to them. During a busy working day, it can be hard to give each patient your full attention. However, it is a valuable part of developing a presence in a pharmacy.
When Ms Devenish was a pharmacy manager, she was working the week before Christmas – one of the busiest times for pharmacy.
She recalls: “A lot of prescriptions were piling up, and one of my regular patients was sat on a chair waiting for me. I came out, and he asked if he could speak to me. We tended to have quite long conversations and his needs were often quite complex. Inside, I was thinking ‘no, not today please!’”
Despite her internal reservations, Ms Devenish took a look at the patient and realised he was unwell – and, on further examination, discovered he was having a heart attack. “He was sat there on the chair with chest pains because he didn’t want to make a fuss,” she says.
The patient received hospital treatment after an ambulance was called. If Ms Devenish had not set aside the prescription pile-up and turned her full attention to the patient, it could have been a different story.
Archie Unger, who runs Giles Pharmacy in Worcestershire, says listening can be really hard when managing a pharmacy. “A lot of the time you’re trying to solve things – you’re directing your staff, and directing the flow of things. When you work with patients, you need to stop that mindset, and switch over to just being present, and actually listening.”
Look the part
Before the patient interacts with the pharmacist, they have already experienced the exterior of the shop, the conversations between other patients, and perhaps even the business’s website. The look of a pharmacy can tell a patient a lot about the care they might receive there.
From the signs in the window telling them what services are available, to the care and attention given to the layout of the shelves, building a presence is about more than just a pharmacist’s conduct within the workplace.
“People judge you on what they can see,” says Ms Devenish. “If you look like you do not take care of yourself, then they may believe that same attitude will translate into the care you give them,” she says.
Ms Tuckley says this professional appearance can differ from pharmacy to pharmacy, depending on who your patients are. “Professionalism is different in different situations. In some areas – if you’re in a business district, for example – people might expect to see more smart attire. Whereas if you’re in a student population, a different attire would still be deemed as appropriate.”
However, professional appearance needs to be consistent across all platforms of the pharmacy, especially where websites and shop windows are concerned, says Ms Tuckley. “Ask yourself: when you stand outside your pharmacy, what is the message you want your customers to get?” she says.
Whatever your presence, you can always find an opportunity to improve your rapport with patients. Numark offers a mystery shopping service for its pharmacies, where anonymous patients make a test purchase and then write a report on their experience. “It provides an invaluable insight into how your pharmacy might be perceived,” says Ms Tuckley.
Mr Unger agrees that pharmacists can only provide the best service if they constantly strive to improve, measure what they are doing, and innovate. He has put this philosophy into practice at Giles Pharmacy, where around six staff meet two or three times a week to discuss the issues of the week, look at what has gone wrong, where they have done well, and potential ways to move forward. “It gives us time to reflect,” says Mr Unger, whose pharmacy won the 2015 Alphega Pharmacy National Award.
Dr Butler emphasises that these techniques are about finding out what works for your pharmacy in your area. “It’s important that pharmacists feel comfortable to be themselves, because then the people interacting with them will also feel comfortable. I certainly wouldn’t help people to adopt a single style,” says Dr Butler. “It’s more important to be genuine.”
Five ways to build your pharmacy’s presence
Read C+D’s recent practical CPD article on managing your pharmacy brand
What tips do you have for making a good impression on patients?
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