Saturday, September 20, 2008


This just struck me as ironic.

I had just spent nearly the entire Saturday night cooped up alone in my room, reading of all things, books on communication skills.

Shouldn't I be outside instead, practicing communications skills with real actual people?

But truth to be told, communication is not as easy as what meets the eye. Consider the snippet below:

Customer: (deep sigh) George had been sick for so long, sometimes I wonder if he's every going to get well. I don't know if I can keep my spirits up much longer.

Pharmacist: Now, of course, George is going to get well, and you can keep your spirits up. You've been so strong about it.

Customer: But it's been so long. It seems that Dr. Johnson should be getting George well pretty soon.

Pharmacist: Now, you know Dr. Johnson is a good doctor, and you shouldn't be questioning his care of your husband. It's important to trust your doctor.

Customer: Well, he's certainly not getting anywhere with George!

Pharmacist: How long has it been now that George has been sick?

Customer: Thirteen months. (note: this is why I chose this example =P)

Pharmacist: Sometimes these things take time. Maybe you just need to get away more. I think it would do you good to have someone come in and stay with George, say one day in a week, so you can get out more.

Customer: I don't want to get out more. I want George to get well.

Pharmacist: He will, believe me. He is getting the best care possible.

The way the pharmacist replied seems reasonable, right?

Wrong! Confused? Well the book where I got it from did tell me why. The first response was a falsely placating response, the second was too judgmental, the third probed about irrelevant info, the four offered a stop gap solution to a long-going, deep problem. The pharmacist response was supposed to be understanding and emphatic.

So now do you still think communication is easy?

If you are wondering why I am reading all these, I have a "failure is no option" oral exam on the 8th of October, which examines my communication skills.

I'm not reading them for fun. But reading them was a fun process.

Ah, the intricate art of communications. Next time I really need to think before I speak.

Maybe you should too.

Oh no, I shouldn't have said that. That was an advicing response. The book said I shouldn't be so caught out in my role as 'expert' that I lose sight of the limits of my expertise.

Anyway go have a think about it.

Snippet copied verbatim from Tindall, Breadsley & Kimberlin: Communication Skills in Pharmacy Practice.


changyang1230 said...

Sometimes I find all those formal educations and subjects to make healthcare providers "saint humans" rather pretentious and overdone. While I would not totally deny its role in shaping a better attitude in people, the pedantic approach in this form of education irks me every now and then.

For example, in that customer's case, should that pharmacist be formulating in his head, "okay, I am not suppose to over-placate this customer, I should be as fair and objective as possible"? And to be objective, should the pharmacist then say things matter-of-factly, "judging from child's symptoms, according to the latest research by Harris and Young, he has a 45 to 75% chance of getting better in one year, and that's a 95% confidence interval"?

I have a feeling that in the very end, whether someone is "good" in communication still depends a lot on how empathic that person is, and that can only be shaped through life experience on an already kind heart. Yes of course we can still learn all about "thou shalt not digress", "thou shalt not be too nice", "thou shalt not tell white lies" etc; but at the end of the day, we are humans, not machines with syntaxes and rules.

Anonymous said...

Boon phiaw, the moment i read how the pharmacist reply to the customer concerns, I alr felt strongly that it is wrong! wrong! wrong!

I agree with chang yang.

Those replies doesn't seem to have sense of empathy and are not convincing at all. Yet those are actually suggestion to "avoid" and brush off the concerns.

It comes with practice and experience i would say.