Practice Insight

Practice Insight: A Satisfactory Resolution to a Complaint About Communication

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Practice Insight explores concerns reported to the College as part of the complaints and reports process that present learning opportunities for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. The College is focused on resolving complaints earlier in the process for low-risk matters. This can provide a more satisfactory outcome for the patient, better address the patient’s concerns, and ensure that the public is protected, while also enabling a quicker timeline for resolution, as the following case shows.

A Request for a Minor Ailment Assessment

A patient arrived at a pharmacy in the late evening, about two hours before the pharmacy was scheduled to close. The patient was experiencing symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) and was seeking a consultation and prescription, however once they inquired about the service, they were directed to visit a physician instead.

The patient stated that the pharmacy had advertisements saying that pharmacists can prescribe for simple UTIs. The pharmacist told the patient that they did not have time to do it, that the patient needed to book an appointment or see a family physician, and that they had many patients waiting already. The patient said that the pharmacist pointed at them, and they felt that the pharmacist displayed unnecessarily aggressive body language that felt threatening. The patient left and attended a different pharmacy where they were able to receive their assessment and prescription.

Addressing the Patient’s Concerns About Communication

In filing their complaint, the patient’s main concerns were poor communication and the rude, unprofessional behaviour of the pharmacist. The patient wanted the pharmacist to be more mindful of how they communicate with patients, emphasizing that they should speak and act with empathy and make patients feel valued and cared for.

After speaking with a College Complaints and Resolutions Officer to understand the complaints process, the patient indicated that they would be interested in withdrawing the complaint if there was a conversation with the registrant to address the key points regarding communication.

The Officer then spoke to the pharmacist, who indicated that on the night of the incident, they were working alone with many competing priorities, would not have been able to safely assess the patient at that time and suggested alternative locations for the patient to receive care. The pharmacist stated that they understood the patient’s perspective, were apologetic, recognized the issues pointed out by the patient and indicated that they would keep them in mind during future patient interactions.

The patient was satisfied with the outcome and formally withdrew the complaint. The Registrar agreed that the withdrawal was in the public interest and therefore no further investigation was required.

Learnings for Registrants

This scenario highlights the following key learnings for registrants from the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice:

  • Respectful communication is an important part of the patient’s experience with the pharmacy. Under the Standards of Practice, registrants must use effective verbal, non-verbal, listening and written communication skills. In addition, they should have a caring, empathetic and professional attitude.
  • The patient’s best interest should be at the core of all decisions. If a pharmacy professional is unable to provide a requested service, they assume responsibility for making reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of care for the patient.
  • Be open to feedback from patients and seek continuous quality improvement in practice. Registrants should keep their professional knowledge and skills up to date and be committed to continuous lifelong learning and professional improvement throughout their professional working life.

Early Resolution and Withdrawal of Complaints

The formal complaints process, which is established by legislation, may not always be the best way to resolve a concern about the care or services provided by a registrant. In the case of low-risk complaints, early resolution that leverages the withdrawal process may provide the complainant with an opportunity to feel like their concerns have been heard. It can also help support an outcome that reflects their expectations regarding what they’d like to see happen because of their complaint (e.g., acknowledgement or apology, change in behaviour or process).

Investigations by College staff and decision making by the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) is a lengthier process and may be perceived as ‘too involved’ by the complainant or may create stress for complainants and registrants as they await the resolution of their file. Resolving low-risk complaints sooner also allows for College resources to focus on areas where there is an increased risk to patient safety, or where professional misconduct or incompetence may be involved.

All complaint withdrawals must be approved by the Registrar, with an acknowledgement that the withdrawal is in the public interest.

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