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By Dana Staat, Pharm.D., clinical pharmacy specialist, Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids

Customer service? In hospital pharmacy? What does that even mean?

When I Googled, “pharmacy customer service,” I was faced with over nine million results. While I didn’t delve into each one, none of the 20+ articles that I saw referred in any way to hospital pharmacy. The articles and websites routinely discussed retail pharmacy and how to improve service to “customers,” or what I would consider “patients.” I believe that most pharmacists, in any practice area, would consider our patients our primary customers. While I completely agree that patients should be our focus, I have recently thought a lot about the other customers that pharmacists serve and how they dramatically help improve patient care. I would like to challenge you to consider that providing customer service to other healthcare providers strongly demonstrates our value. Today I will focus on nurses, who Pharmacy Times described as “above all, health-system pharmacists’ team members in patient care.”

Customer Service: Nurses

I recently encountered a new hospital pharmacist discussing interactions that she had with various nurses over the course of her day. I won’t describe the conversation in detail, but I will say that the statements were not positive. I asked myself the following questions: When did nurses and pharmacists become enemies? Are we providing the nurses with the customer service that they need and deserve? In what ways can we demonstrate our value to our nurse colleagues?

I won’t pretend that I have never been frustrated with a nurse. I have. I know they have been frustrated with me, in return. Commonly, those frustrating interactions have been over the phone with a nurse that I can’t see and probably haven’t met before. Things changed when I moved to working on the nursing unit. When nurses approached me face-to-face with a problem, we were both nicer and more considerate of each other. I was also more willing to run to the pharmacy and hand-deliver that medication they had already called for three times. We don’t always have time for things like hand delivery or is that just what we tell ourselves? Is it possible to push through our daily frustrations to give nurses the customer service they need? Personalized problem solving (with a positive attitude) is essential to nurse customer service.

I once had a nurse describe me as “her pharmacist.” The conversation was probably about eight years ago, but I still remember and value it. What did I do for the nurse who considered me her pharmacist? I answered her questions, discussed her medication concerns, contacted providers and sometimes did less exciting things like finding missing medications or fixing the Pyxis machine. Whatever it was, it helped us to form a relationship, become team members, and eventually become friends.

I also share an office with two nurse care managers. Each care manager focuses on patient care in a different way. I collaborate with one care manager on day-to-day patient discharges, while the other care manager consults me (and other pharmacists) on transitions of care issues and alerts us of medication lists that need a review prior to discharge. I have learned from these two care managers that it is sometimes the little things I do that make the most impact. The five minutes that I spent calling the patient’s pharmacy saved my care manager 30 minutes of time. The 15 minutes I spent reviewing a patient’s chart and calling a physician saved hours of care management time. The minute I spent pulling up Lexicomp answered a question they had been worried about all day. Helping where I could made all the difference, even if I didn’t see it at the time.

It is all easier said than done, isn’t it? This year, as I demonstrate my value in a variety of ways, I have made myself a goal to provide “exemplary customer service” to all the nurses I encounter. I truly believe that this will lead to better “customer” care, both for our patient-customers and our nurse-customers.

Goals for Customer Service

·         Personalized problem solving

·         Foster relationships

o   Take a personal interest

o   Create a team

·         Help where we can

·         Good attitude

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