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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : November 2006
guild AST month I had the pleasure of speaking at the 2006 Pharmacy Assistants Conference on the Gold Coast. This year’s conference came alive with approximately 300 inspirational phar- macy assistants and was buzzing with the enthusiasm these people inject into our pharmacies every day. Pharmacy assis- tants are truly the frontline of community pharmacy and the ongoing success of our businesses depends on them. This is a good thing, because I could not have been more impressed by the delegates I had the honour of meeting at the conference. Congratulations also must go to the organisers of the event, as the conference is going from strength to strength each year. Pharmacists who have considered sending one or more of their pharmacy assistants to this event in the past but haven’t done so yet are missing out on the benefits that the energising and educa- tional aspects of the conference can pro- vide their business through their partici- pating employees. One of the key messages I delivered in my presentation at the conference is that sometimes in community pharmacy we get too caught up in product knowledge. This can lead to what I call ‘verbal diar- rhoea’, which is a potential pitfall for pharmacy assistants, as it is obviously not what the patient needs. While it is vital that we give advice with every item that is sold in a pharmacy, as this advice is what sets community phar- macy apart from those who would like to enter our market and treat it like any other retailing business, we need to be focused on getting the basics right. So it is not technical information about the product, which will more times than not cause the patient’s eyes to glaze over, but simple common sense information. This information is valuable to patients and it is where pharmacy assistants can add enormous value. Assistants have proven that they have this knowledge, so from the president Pharmacy Guild of Australia president Kos Sclavos Common sense advice L now the focus must be on delivering it to customers in the most effective way. It is about building a trusted relationship with the customer. Whether it is a symptom based request or even a direct product request, unfortu- nately consumers usually know very little about medicines or the underlying condi- tion a given product is being used for. The emphasis is on pharmacy staff to address this concern. We should never assume that a customer knows all of the relevant information about a product even if they make a direct request for that product. Recent media stories about patients using Look after health solutions and product sales and loyalty will follow Ibuprofen for stomach aches and cramps, ignorant of the dangers involved, high- light the importance of being engaged in the product selection process. We have to keep an eye on the bigger picture. In the end, pharmacy staff must be focused on providing health solutions, not products. Look after health solutions and product sales and loyalty will follow. Pharmacy staff need to work to develop highly effective communication skills— specifically to encourage customers to ask questions and fully appreciate that it is their health at stake and they have the ulti- mate responsibility to ensure their medi- cine and the way they take it is correct. I am a big believer in role-play training. Assistants and pharmacists alike need to practice these scenarios. 16 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.87 NOVEMBER 2006 It is important to empower the patient and allow them to feel in charge of the process. Simple strategies like allowing them to hold the product they have requested while you go through the appropriate questions will make them feel more involved and give them the confi- dence to ask those important questions and they will feel more comfortable pro- viding personal information that could be relevant. Other important considerations for pharmacy assistants include establishing what condition the product is being used for, as this can assist to establish the appropriateness of the product; and iden- tifying what risks come with the product, as all medicines have some risk. Keeping these concerns high in their thinking will help ensure the patient is well-informed and ensure a better health outcome. Pharmacy staff need to be conscious that sometimes products for the same con- dition are located in different parts of the pharmacy. Customers often do not know that. A product for the same condition could be located in the complementary medicines section in a Pharmacy Medi- cines section and also the Pharmacist Only Medicines section. This is why it is important for phar- macy assistants to have a broader under- standing of the products offered in the pharmacy. A good pharmacy assistant should be able to take a customer to other parts of the pharmacy. Perhaps most importantly, it is vital for pharmacy assistants to know when to refer the customer to the pharmacist. I stressed at the conference that there is absolutely no embarrassment in making such a referral—it is what good pharmacy assistants do. In the same way a good pharmacist knows when to refer to a doc- tor, the assistant needs to know when to refer. To my pharmacist colleagues I hope you take time out of you busy day to thank our terrific pharmacy assistants. s