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How to build relationships within your community

Pharmacists offer an essential lifeline to the patients they serve. Karen Baker provides some easy tips to ensure you and your team remain at the heart of your community

A pharmacist’s relationship with their patients plays a defining role in how their pharmacy is perceived as a valuable resource in their community. Pharmacists want their patients to feel comfortable and be recognised by them as reliable and trustworthy. But building connections and confidence with the community doesn’t always come easy and is something that needs to be built over time.

Care’s pharmacist, Karen Baker, provides four four key pieces of advice to help community pharmacists build relationships with patients in their community.


Make the most of social media


Pharmacists are under more pressure than ever. On average, 865,000 people were given clinical advice by pharmacists per week in 2022, marking an increase of 44% in two years. Ms Baker recommends pharmacy teams look at how social media could help with processes and building relationships with the community to help alleviate some of these pressures.

Read more: ‘There’s no escape from it’: How stress is pushing contractors to the limit

She says: “Social media is a great communication tool to help develop your pharmacy business. It gives you a chance to promote your expertise, raise the profile of your business and profession and highlight products and services.”

She adds: “With so many people going online to get health information and advice, it keeps community pharmacists accessible and relevant.”


Refine your communication skills


Build and maintain trust with patients by having effective communication skills. This includes being able to adapt your communication style to meet the patient's needs, being aware of non-verbal and verbal communication, and exhibiting active listening.

Know your local community and have leaflets and information available in other languages if these are likely to be useful for your patients.

Make sure you don’t use jargon when talking to patients and use similar language to that they have used with you, so they can understand you and don’t feel like you are talking down to them.

Read more: Community pharmacy can help the NHS write the best chapters of its history

Body language and the way you speak are large parts of communication, so adopt a similar temperament and speech patterns to your patient. Ensure you keep your body language open with arms uncrossed, make eye contact and give them your full attention patiently.

Show respect and care for your patients and treat them with dignity and compassion. It's important to spend appropriate time with patients even when under pressure, without allowing anything to detract from providing high-quality patient care.

Respect cultural diversity and the right for patients to hold their own values and beliefs as well.

Ms Baker says: “Showing empathy and recognising their emotions can help and repeating or summarising at the end can help ensure you understand fully what they have told you.”


Undertake regular training


Make sure you and your staff have the competencies for the roles being performed. Identify training needs regularly and have a culture of life-long learning. This will include appropriate training for assistants and ongoing training in both medications and services.

Read more: How to maintain motivation in your pharmacy team

This should also be something managers take the time to do, leading by example. By ensuring the whole team is receiving training, the pharmacy will grow positively together.

This can be easier said than done because it can be difficult to find time for training. Allocate training time for when you are quieter or have more staff at work. Having a set training time for each member of staff that is non-negotiable is ideal.

Ms Baker says: “Regular time such as an hour a fortnight will help established staff members stay up to date, although those [who are] new or working through accredited training courses will need more time.”

Bear in mind the differences in team members too. Some work best in the morning, while others can concentrate better later in the day and many people find it difficult to concentrate after lunch.


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail


Where things go wrong, make sure all staff are aware of how to respond to and deal with patient complaints openly and honestly. Clear information and a concise explanation alongside ensuring confidentiality and ongoing support will help reassure the patient.

Using case studies or charts showing what can go wrong and the best ways to respond are helpful, as most of the more common complaints can be anticipated. Roleplay can also be useful, although not everyone is comfortable with these as a form of learning.

Read more: NPA: Pharmacy's accessibility ‘double-edged sword’ during NHS strikes

Talking through different responses in advance is always useful though, and team members can learn by watching or listening to how another member of staff deals with the situation. Ms Baker says: “Remind members of staff that if in doubt, they should refer to someone more senior to deal with the complaint or problem.”

Patients are far more likely to trust pharmacists who are open and honest in their approach, admit to errors, apologise, and do everything in their power to rectify any mistake.

As communities lean on pharmacies more than ever, these are just some of the ways community pharmacists can ensure they build positive and long-lasting relationships with their patients and continue to be at the heart of their communities.

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