Why are consultation skills important for all pharmacy professionals?

As a pharmacy professional you play a key role in supporting people to manage their own health. Every time you speak with a patient or customer you have the opportunity to make a difference. Whether you are a hospital pharmacist discussing treatment at the patient’s bedside, a community pharmacist conducting a medicines use review or a pharmacy technician leading a smoking cessation service, patient consultations are likely to be a core part of your role. With the time constraints of pharmacy today you may find it a challenge to satisfy both your own and the patient’s agenda within the consultation. This learning and development programme will support you in reflecting on and developing your knowledge, skills and behaviours in order to meet the practice standards for effective consultations.

You will be taking an increasingly patient-facing role as you support medicines optimisation and the public health agenda. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society report, Now or never: shaping pharmacy for the future,1 outlines the need for pharmacy to be proactive in patient care. You may have learned about consultation skills as part of your undergraduate training, or you may feel that your day-to-day practice has provided you with the experience you need to conduct your consultations effectively. But how do you know you are getting it right? Evidence suggests that we don’t always get it right and that some consultation skills are lacking, in particular listening to the patient and taking a patient-centred approach.2, 3 4

How often do you find yourself enthusiastically ‘telling’ a patient about their medicines, how they work and what side-effects they may expect, without finding out first what the patient already knows or has experienced with their medicine? You may be the expert in medicines or healthy lifestyle advice, but the patient is an expert in their own experiences and the social circumstances that may affect their healthcare.

Remember, patient-centred care is: ‘care that meets the patient’s wants, needs and preferences and where patients are autonomous and able to decide for themselves’. 5

Effective consultations lie at the heart of delivering patient-centred care. Putting the patient at the centre of the consultation and adapting your consultation style to take the patient’s perspective into account will help you to see health and illness from their viewpoint Pharmacy, alongside the whole of the NHS, is committed to putting patients at the centre of their own healthcare, ensuring they are a true partner in the discussion, helping them to make informed choices and to be involved in the decision-making process for their own health.6,7 You will be encouraging patients to take ownership for their own health and potentially improve their health outcomes.

The knowledge, skills and behaviours that are the key to developing your practice in conducting an effective patient-centred consultation are set out in the Consultation skills for pharmacy practice standards. The key skills range from basic communication skills, such as active listening, to more complex skills, such as applying specific questioning techniques and enabling patients to share in decisions and planning. No two consultations from pharmacy professionals will ever be the same, there is no blueprint. You will bring your own style and personality to each discussion, but revisiting and assessing your own skills and behaviours should be part of your continuing professional development and once you are confident in the fundamentals, you can extend your practice by exploring health coaching. You can access the practice standards by visiting the next step on this learning pathway.
Applying effective consultation skills will help to improve the care that is provided to patients, while at the same time promoting the respect and recognition of pharmacy professionals among other healthcare professionals and patients. Working towards the practice standards for consultation skills and seeing your practice move forward will help improve your professional confidence and enhance your job satisfaction by reassuring you that you are doing your best to support patients in improving their own health.
  1. Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Now or never: shaping pharmacy for the future. London: RPS; November 2013.
  2. Greenhill et al. Analysis of pharmacist-patient communication using the Calgary-Cambridge guide. Patient Education and Counseling 2001; (83): 423-431.
  3. Salter C, Holland R, Harvey I and Henwood K. 'I haven’t even phoned my doctor yet'. The advice giving role of the pharmacist during consultations for medication review with patients aged 80 or more: qualitative disclosure analysis. British Medical Journal 2007 [published 20 April 2007 online].
  4. Latif A, Pollock K and Boardman H. The contribution of the medicines use review (MUR) consultation to counselling practice in community pharmacies. Patient Education and Counseling 2011;(83): 336-344.
  5. Coulter A. The autonomous patient; ending paternalism in medical care. London: Nuffield Trust; 2002.
  6. Department of Health. NHS Constitution for England. March 2013. London: Department of Health; 2013. www.nhs.uk/choiceintheNHS/Rightsandpledges/NHSConstitution/Pages/Overview.aspx
  7. Department of Health. Equity and excellence: liberating the NHS. London: Department of Health; 2010 www.gov.uk/government/publications/liberating-the-nhs-white-paper