Letters that address a customer’s concerns are a key part of pharmacy communication.
They are written with passion and are often the first step to getting a patient to open up a prescription.
But if you are one of the millions of pharmacy workers who work in the UK, the letters you receive could be a lot less welcoming.
In a letter to the editor, a pharmacist in Lancashire asks whether you will accept his offer of a prescription, even if the patient is in a coma.
If you have no idea what he is going through, how do you feel about sending a letter asking for help?
Or if you think a patient is having a seizure, how would you react if your letter was sent to a hospital?
And if your patient is unable to make appointments for you, can you make a case for why they should not?
Pharmacist letters are a vital part of pharmacist work in general, but if you work in an NHS pharmacy, they could be your best friends.
The NHS Pharmacy Union (NU) has launched a campaign to change the letter format and improve the communication of doctors and pharmacists in the NHS.
In an open letter to pharmacists, NU president Mike Pickles, from the Association of Pharmacists of Great Britain (APGN), argues that pharmacists should not send letters unless they are asked.
The letter format of the letter is the first stage of the communication process, he says.
When pharmacists are not asked about a patient’s condition, and have not been asked about their personal history or the care they need, it’s clear that this letter has little or no impact.
‘No impact’ In a survey, nearly a third of pharmacists and pharmacologists (36%) said they had received letters that they felt were ‘no impact’.
This suggests that pharmacologists have been reluctant to write letters because they do not know what the letter might mean.
‘We’re in a tough job’ In the NHS, pharmacists work alongside a medical team of specialist nurses, social workers and other health professionals.
As part of their jobs, pharmacologists are responsible for patient care, ensuring patients are taking their medication, and ensuring that the right medication is delivered correctly to patients.
They work closely with their patients and are required to read patient information sheets (PIS).
The PISs are a list of questions and answers, with the doctor answering the questions, the nurse assisting them, and the other health care professionals answering the answers.
If the patient’s GP is unavailable, the pharmacist will check the patient records, check on patients medication, assess their condition and then decide whether or not to send the PIS.
The patient can then decide if they want the medication to be sent.
A pharmacist might have a ‘no effect’ letter in their hand when they receive a PIS, but this letter might be different from one that the patient might receive in their hands.
For example, the patient may not know that the doctor was in the hospital, or that the nurse was the one to deliver the Pis.
NU and the APGN are campaigning for changes to the letter-writing format and to allow pharmacists to make a more informed decision about their patients.
In addition to the PICs, the letter also contains a list to which pharmacists can refer patients, if they need to.
Pharmacists should also be able to respond to patients in the PICS, and in some cases, patients themselves.
‘Patients can ask for help’ In their letter, Pickles writes that pharmacist letters are often ‘somewhat unhelpful’ and that ‘there is no doubt that pharmacology has changed significantly in the last 25 years, particularly with regard to how we treat patients’.
He says pharmacists need to make an effort to communicate more about the medical condition of their patients, and this can be done by sending a PIC instead of a letter.
‘As a pharmaist, I am always striving to give patients the best possible care, but I also feel that a pharmacy is a human endeavour and that patients can ask questions,’ Pickles says.
He says that, ‘the best pharmacists do not take shortcuts.
If pharmacists wish to give advice, they should consider what patients are asking for and whether they have a specific problem.’
He adds: ‘When we see patients with their eyes closed, we can often see a physical response.
In that case, I believe pharmacists who are concerned with their own care should write more about that.’
He argues that when pharmacists send letters, they do so in an attempt to help patients.
‘The NHS Pharmacists Union is proud to have been a strong supporter of this change.
We believe pharmacologists should write to patients, to provide advice, to answer their questions and to share with patients the medicines that they have been prescribed.’
The NU has been campaigning for the introduction of a PAS, the Patient Access and Choice Act, which would allow