How to Handle Difficult Patients at Your Independent Pharmacy

Everyone in customer service, pharmaceuticals or otherwise, has had their experience with difficult patients. When dealing with people, some of them are bound to be angry. Oftentimes, they were angry before they got to you. But there’s a difference between difficult patients and difficult customers.

A cashier in a drive-thru window has customers. In pharmaceuticals, we have patients, who are our customers. Individual pharmacists have a whole different set of scenarios than the average cashier, server, or sales clerk. Because we’re dealing with people’s medications and ultimately their health. This combination can make for a highly sensitive encounter when all is not going well.

When the Customer Isn’t Right

“We’re brought up with a mentality that “the customer is always right,” says Jerry. “But in the case of pharmaceuticals, the customer isn’t always right.” It’s a hard pill to swallow, but pharmacists are bound by what insurance companies say needs to be done, as well as the perimeters of the law we must work within. Our patients can’t always see or understand this and it’s our job to help them.

The difficult patient can stem from a lot of things. Essentially there’s usually something holding you (the independent pharmacist) back from being able to take care of the patient. It could be insurance, something wrong with the prescription, or administrative issues.

Advice to Live By

When dealing with a difficult patient here are some tips that may be helpful:

  1. Listen to what your patient, your customer, is saying.
  2. Acknowledge the problem, and if you made a mistake own it.
  3. Explain what the problem is, why it occurred and what you can to do to resolve it.
  4. Thank them.
The words, “I understand,” are priceless in any field of customer service. Take the time to explain to the patient that you hear them, and if you do make a mistake own it. To keep a good relationship with people, following these two principles really makes a difference. What can really get you through in a tough moment is reminding yourself to look for a reason to get that prescription filled. In the end, winning over a difficult patient can be every bit as rewarding as your paycheck.