Important Customer Service Skills for Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians engage with customers, patients, health care providers, insurance companies and co-workers regularly on a daily basis. Good customer service skills are essential and go beyond greeting customers with a smile. Technicians should accept early in their career that patients will not always respond with the same courtesy as being shown to them. Three common examples of job duties where good customer service skills are often challenging include:

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  • Updating patient information
  • Respecting a patient’s time
  • Prescription claim rejections by insurance providers

Most pharmacy technician programs include a combination of education and specialized training geared towards customer and client engagement in the pharmacy setting. Still yet, technicians often find it difficult to provide optimum customer service while carrying out the duties and demands of the job.

In the world of healthcare, satisfied customers are the name of the game. Although strong organizational and inventory management skills are essential to pharmacy operation, providing non-stop, satisfying customer service can make or break how respected and competitive a pharmacy is.

Working as a team with pharmacy staff is the first step in being able to provide excellent customer service. There should be an emphasis in any pharmacy setting on making sure a patient’s needs come first. This means picking up the slack when necessary, even if it means taking a late lunch from time to time. Technicians are to work within their scope of practice and assist the pharmacist in overcoming any challenges while preserving safe and effective pharmaceutical patient care.

Technicians should always consider that most patients visiting a pharmacy are either not feeling well or dealing with an ailment of some sort. Technicians should always strive to exhibit empathy, concern, and a willingness to help each person. Customers often become impatient or disgruntled when asked to update their patient information, especially if they were just asked to do so very recently. To help in this workplace challenge, when asking a customer to update their patient record, technicians can politely explain that a thorough review is necessary to ensure any medications they are currently taking will not interfere with any newly-prescribed medications.

A hot button issue at any retail pharmacy is the amount of time a customer has to wait on having their prescription filled. How much a waiting customer is valued is often demonstrated in how they are greeted and approached. Making an effort to learn customers by name is a great way for technicians to communicate true care and concern and will likely influence whether the customer returns in the future. If a customer’s prescription is going to take 15 minutes, don’t tell them it will be ready in “just a moment.” As in any field of work, honesty is always the best policy.

Third party billing can be one of the most difficult tasks for a pharmacy technician. Billing rejections can be frustrating and even more frustrating when left to explain to the patient why their medication is not covered. Experience is key to overcoming the challenges faced in insurance billing, although there are a few things technicians can do to raise their chances of being successful in claim submissions. Familiarity with insurance cards and the appropriate coding and notation necessary helps to ensure that claims are submitted accurately and successfully. In addition, computer technology is heavily relied on in pharmacies. Becoming familiar with and confident in the computer software system to ensure pharmacy workflow is not interrupted can be beneficial when entering data for claim submission.

How to Survive A Bad Patient Encounter at the Pharmacy

There are many situations which can upset a patient at the Pharmacy. Many times, if there is a long wait, patients can become upset and irritable and will take their frustration and anger out on the Pharmacy Technician. Another common problem is a rejection of a Prior Authorization which can deny a patient an important or even life-saving medication and thus can upset them greatly. Prescriptions which are out of date and mistakes in processing the patient’s prescriptions can also lead to an upset or difficult patient. Once a patient becomes upset and angry, it can be very difficult to change their bad experience into a positive one. Read on to learn more about how best to survive a bad patient encounter at the Pharmacy.

Verbally Abusive Patients

If a customer becomes verbally abusive and is using threatening or foul language, you should firmly inform them that this type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

If you are speaking to the patient on the phone, and they continue to escalate in their anger, you can indicate to them that you are there to help them but that you are going to terminate the call if they cannot communicate in a respectful and calm manner.

If the patient becomes aggressive and threatening in person, you need to involve your supervisor or supervising Pharmacist who will make the appropriate decision on whether to call in store security personnel or even call the police.

If the patient has become verbally abusive due to an issue with their health insurance coverage, you can refer them to the appropriate customer service (800) phone number where their concerns can be addressed.

Aggressive Patients

Aggressive patients should be handled with care and with the help of your supervisors.

You should carefully explain to them that you are trying to handle their concerns with respect and care but that they will not be allowed to disrupt the entire pharmacy.

If the patient continues to act aggressively, you can ask them to leave the Pharmacy area and you should feel empowered to call security if the situation escalates.

How to Deal With a Difficult Pharmacy Patient

#1 Stay Calm and Focused at All Times

  • Make sure that you do not allow the patient’s angry attitude to “rub off” on you
  • Do not become frustrated and angry yourself as this does not help the patient and does not help solve the problem
  • Maintain positive body language and positive facial expressions at all times
  • Stay positive and always assume that the best outcome will prevail
  • Do not make preconceived judgments
  • Keep a positive physical presence at all times by breathing normally and staying relaxed
  • Try to empathize with the patient (you do not know what the patient may have going on in their lives and so the desire to know will oppose the desire to be angry and to obliterate knowledge) in order to reduce any anger and frustration you may be feeling (This will allow you to listen to the patient with empathy and respect)

#2 Listen to What the Patient is Saying

  • Even if the patient is belligerent or obnoxious, always take the time and effort to determine what he/she is trying to communicate
  • Positive body language such as good eye contact, your hands down at your sides in a relaxed posture and nodding your head in agreement can all help to indicate that you are listening carefully and paying attention to what is being communicated by the patient
  • Try not to interrupt the patient and give them an adequate amount of time in order to express themselves
  • After hearing what the patient says, it is often helpful to repeat back what you have just heard
  • This is a common technique used in boardrooms and by mental health professionals to indicate that you have comprehended what they are trying to say and that you have “heard” them
  • This will reduce their level of anger and allow them to reduce their level of hostility

#3 Identify the Patient’s Problem and Acknowledge This to the Patient

  • Gather all pertinent information about the patient’s problem
  • Once the problem is identified, acknowledge this to the patient and be sure to apologize for any mistakes that either you or your co-workers may have made
  • If a patient remains angry, it is important to try to determine exactly what has upset them
  • This could be due to an extended waiting period, a prescription error or some type of administrative problem
  • Be sure to apologize to the patient and indicate that you do appreciate their business
  • Also, be sure to demonstrate that you do care for the patient and that you will do everything in your power to make sure that they are treated with respect and compassion
  • Be sure to apologize to the patient again for any hardships or inconvenience to his/her schedule

#4 Offer the Best Solution Possible

  • Make sure that you come up with a solution plan that will both solve the problem and leave the patient satisfied
  • If the Pharmacy has run out of a specific medication, offer to either transfer the prescription to another Pharmacy or to order the medicine on an expedited basis
  • This will help ensure that the patient will come to value you as a problem-solver who they can trust to solve this problem and other healthcare problems for them in the future as well
  • Once the problem has been solved to the patient’s complete satisfaction, it is often useful to offer the patient a small compensation for their inconvenience and trouble
  • This can often consist of a discount on pharmacy retail items such as cosmetics or other front-end items
  • Hopefully this will help to restore your credibility with the patient

#5 Work with Your Pharmacist and Manager to Change Flaws in the System

  • Once the problem has been resolved, begin to work with your supervisors to examine your Pharmacy’s policies and procedures to help prevent this same problem from recurring in the future
  • Possible solutions include hiring additional staff to reduce waiting times or adding additional automation to free up staff for additional patient related duties

#6 Learn the Starbucks LATTE Method to Deal With an Angry Patient

Starbucks has formalized many of the techniques for dispute resolution mentioned above.

Some Pharmacy Training Programs have adapted this method to deal with angry or disruptive patients.

As you can imagine, coffee servers at Starbucks are constantly dealing with angry and dissatisfied customers.

After trying many approaches, Starbucks developed what they have termed the LATTE Method of dealing with customers who are upset.

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The LATTE Method is designed to instill a routine of thought in servers that after a period of practice can be triggered automatically when dealing with angry clients.

This same technique has been modified to be used when dealing with an angry patient to help ensure the best outcome.

As part of the LATTE Method, consider the following open-ended question when dealing with an angry patient.

Considering this question and having a plan of response that you are comfortable with ahead of time makes it easier to respond when an actual conflict with an angry patient occurs.

Question: “When I am faced with an angry or unhappy patient, my plan is to….”

LATTE stands for the following:

  • L = Listen to the patient
  • A = Acknowledge the patient’s complaint
  • T = Take Action by Solving the Problem
  • T = Thank the patient
  • E = Explain to the patient why the problem occurred

Choose Your Battles and Learn to “Let it Go”

It is important to learn to “choose your battles” and to not waste additional time and energy once you have tried your best to placate a patient and solve their complaints.

Your other patients require your attention and you need to remember that you cannot please every customer every time.

The manner in which you respond to a difficult patient at the Pharmacy can have an effect that can be far-reaching in your community. If a patient has a bad experience at the Pharmacy, he can share this with family, friends or co-workers and convince them to bring their prescription drug orders to other Pharmacies. A disgruntled patient can also wind up posting negative or derogatory reviews online that can discourage new patients from visiting your Pharmacy or current patients from returning. Staying calm at all times, listening to the patient, identifying and acknowledging the problem, offering a solution and making changes in policies and procedures can help retain patients and thus contribute to a decreased percentage of bad patient encounters.

Customer Service And Medical Insurance

Because many customers obtain their medications under the terms of a medical insurance plan, they often consult with pharmacy technicians on some aspects of their plans. They may ask for alternative medications that still qualify for coverage, for example, or they may ask why certain medications are covered and some aren’t.

Although pharmacy technicians aren’t expected to take the place of professional medical insurance specialists, they should be able to answer questions that pertain to medications and prescriptions as they relate to medical insurance. They should be able to explain to customers that only certain medications are covered and that any other alternatives will have to be paid for out-of-pocket.

In many ways, the role of a pharmacy technician is largely all about customer service. They often serve as the direct point of contact for patients seeking medication, and they even serve as go-betweens of the sort for patients and physicians. These requirements often place them in an informal role of medical insurance consultant.

That being said, it is important to realize that pharmacy technicians are in no way meant to replace a licensed medical insurance professional. The education and training that a pharmacy technician receives in no way qualify him or her to dispense medical insurance advice, nor does it qualify him or her to recommend a specific course of action.

The sole responsibility of a pharmacy technician as it applies to medical insurance concerns is to inform the patient as to what is covered under his or her plan, and what her options are. For any other concerns beyond that, the patient will have to consult with the medical insurance representative or physician.

Most insurance coverage plans are generally quite confusing to understand. Filled with jargon and numerous complex technical terms, they are often exceedingly difficult to grasp even by specialists, and even more so by typical patients. Medical insurance plans are no different, and even someone that has extensive experience in the medical profession would have considerable difficulty coming to grips with its intricacies.

As a pharmacy technician, part of your role involves understanding the different aspects of medical coverage and explaining them to customers in a way that they understand. This can be a lot more challenging than you think. You almost have to be a medical insurance expert of sorts, and also have the communication skills necessary to inform and educate your customers. Not many people are suited to the demands of such a role, but it is something that you will have to train for and develop if you want to be able to fulfill your duties to the best of your abilities.

Learn more about Helping Patients Understand Insurance Information At The Pharmacy

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