Patient Engagement – Start With The Salutation

Health is a very personal business and trust is a very important element in the “engagement” mix as far as delivering information about conditions or medications, and the mentoring required when transferring knowledge and understanding.
Engagement is a two-way process and involves system and style.
For example, I have often used my knowledge of family history (the origin of surnames) as a method (system) of establishing a relationship with someone whose surname I recognise.
Suddenly, you can be immersed within that family and you can also add value to the conversation by relating your own family with theirs.
It is a process that removes barriers.

But that is not the only mechanism to trigger a friendly conversation that can eventually turn to a professionally informative discussion – a discussion that enables you to reach deep enough into the information flow to obtain sufficient data to form a professional opinion, that in turn creates value for the patient.
This system is such that a “touch point”, like family history, can ignite a general conversation that progresses, with appropriate questions, to a clinical conversation.
Other writers have defined the above as needing a “pick-up line” to start a clinical conversation, particularly an OTC conversation.
Pharmacy critics have quickly turned that into a cheap approach to a clinical service.
While the intention may have been totally different (and obvious), nomenclature is important when new systems and processes are introduced, and it is important to think about proper nomenclature to avoid negative criticism that our detractors delight in filling up useless space in whatever publication promotes them.
They have little to do with their time and fear even basic competition.

Patients recognise and value a process that is empathetic and occupies a reasonable time frame which is judged “enough” by the patient.
Experience in consultation is the only teacher for when a conversation has been deemed sufficient by the patient, to fully transfer their requirements and receive back an adequate response.

Clinical conversations can follow a systematic and predetermined check list of questions and responses, and those consultants that systematically cover all bases will be deemed successful compared to others who don’t have system.
Using a check list will ensure that “enough” information and insight has been gathered and the time involvement should be deemed “enough” by both parties to the conversation.

It has become the heart of a “patient engagement”.
Efficient clinical conversations that still retain full empathy will be profitable consultations.

But there is a single important step before all the above, and that is involved in establishing a proper greeting or salutation.
Apart from general etiquette (appropriate handshake and body language), when meeting a patient, recent research indicates that patients feel more comfortable when addressed by their first name.
A hospital study confirms that an overwhelming majority of patients prefer to be addressed informally by their health professionals. This study appeared in the BMJ Open.

Formal address by title (such as Mr or Mrs) followed by surname was disliked by 58.7% of 300 patients surveyed over a month at a large tertiary hospital. Just 1% nominated it as their preferred mode of address.

About two-thirds of patients prefer to be addressed by their legal first name, while about a third prefer an abbreviation of their first name or a different name (nickname) altogether.

Asked why they disliked formal address, patients said it “feels too impersonal” and “that is my father’s name”.

Pharmacists in a clinical setting should be aware of the above preferences and that should be the first question asked, with the response entered into the patient profile for future reference.
Some patients may still prefer to be formally addressed.

On the other side of the relationship, the researchers found the majority of patients (57.3%) were unable to name a single member of their attending health team.

This implies that a reciprocity had not occurred at the time of meeting the patient, allowing patients to call you or other health professionals by their first name.
And maybe you did not encourage a response by not having a name badge that identified you by your preferred salutation.
If patients had no recall of the health professional attending, what recall did they have regarding verbal instructions from their health professionals given that they may have had little or no rapport?

These simple procedures underpin every patient transaction in terms of how skilled a pharmacist is in transferring knowledge.
I guess the analogy I am trying to relate to is the one that says:
“Give a man a fish and he eats for that day. Teach a man how to fish and he eats for the rest of his life”.

Patients will always need mentoring, the soft management skills associated with delegation.
To be able to mentor means that you have to establish a trusted relationship first before there is genuine engagement – which must always be a two-way relationship.

All the above processes are part and parcel of a professional working day.
Pharmacy programs that will be introduced as formal revenue streams for pharmacy include Self Care and the Minor Ailments Program. They will not be fully successful until a harmonious patient engagement system exists and patients are recognised as having patient status and  respected as such.
Just being a “customer” does not “cut the mustard”.
Understanding the difference between a customer and a patient will appropriately direct your promotional efforts into the right channel.

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