An Overlooked Member of an Effective Healthcare Team

By Gregory Pings, manager of Content Marketing for Xerox

Sandra Bollinger
“Gaining a patient’s trust is the most important component to delivering high-quality healthcare.” — Sandra Bollinger, provider outreach coordinator for Government Healthcare Solutions at Xerox

It might be the fact that Sandra Bollinger’s patients met with her at the funeral home that led to her election to the American Pharmacists Association’s executive committee. A consulting pharmacist, Sandra had previously seen her patients at a medical clinic.

“I interpreted lab results, which told me whether the medication level was therapeutic, or if the level was toxic,” Sandra explained. “Pharmacists can order changes to medication levels, or even initiate therapy for different drugs.

“But our best contribution,” she added, “is helping patients understand the nature of their medical condition and how their treatment plan can help them get better.”

When the clinic’s grant money for Sandra’s service ran out, she had to find a site that was convenient for her patients, and that she could use at no charge.

“My patients were worried that they wouldn’t be able to see me,” she recalled, “and I was worried too. I was speaking to one of the physicians about where I could find some space at no charge when Charlie walked in.”

Charlie had plenty of space where Sandra could meet with patients, although he added that she would occasionally have to be flexible to accommodate his appointments with his customers — a small price for free office space. When Sandra pulled up to Charlie’s address, she saw a beautiful, two-story, white colonial home. The building was perfect; the location was perfect.

Then she saw the sign. Not only did Charlie own the funeral home, he was also the County Coroner.

Regardless, Sandra’s practice continued uninterrupted and successful.

Cancelled Appointments and Other Barriers to Patient Care

Some eight months later, a colleague pointed out that, on average, up to 40 percent of patient appointments are no-shows. He posited that – given the office environment — Sandra’s no-show rate was higher. Sandra recalled only three no-shows since she moved her practice. Two patients had good excuses and rescheduled immediately. Only one was a genuine no-show.

“For all I know, that one guy might have been in another room at the funeral parlor,” she recalled puckishly. “But my no-show rate was well south of average.”

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Where no-shows are an obvious barrier to effective care, communication and trust are easily overlooked.

“In my practice as a consulting pharmacist, gaining a patient’s trust is the most important component to delivering high-quality healthcare,” Sandra explained. “My patients are at the center: I empower them to make decisions and set goals. I coax, encourage, figure out how to solve issues – but I don’t preach.”

It’s why she is effective with her patients, and it’s why the National Community Pharmacists Association invited her to talk about how good communication can improve a patient’s health. Good sessions with patients include attributes like:

  • How the treatment plan supports the patient’s health goals.
  • Address ambivalence or resistance.
  • Help patients talk positively about change.

People interact with pharmacists more often than their primary doctors, so it makes sense that pharmacists should be involved in patient care beyond merely dispensing pills. This insight is at the heart of a program that helped Missouri’s Medicaid program save $119,000 in 2013.

It’s why helping other pharmacists be recognized as critical members of a healthcare team — and to be compensated as such – is Sandra’s top priority with the American Pharmacists Association.

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