The 3 top strategies to combat patients’ drug anxiety
By Marc Pourrier
Fear of unforeseen side effects, distrust of pharmaceutical companies, nervousness over changing treatment plans – there are many reasons patients get anxious over being prescribed a new medication.
Anxious patients are more likely to behave with anger or sarcasm and be confrontational about their new course of treatment. A few simple communication tactics can help alleviate patient worries, prevent conflict, and ensure patients leave your pharmacy feeling confident in their new prescription.
The simplest way to reduce patient anxiety is to listen to their worries. If you sense that a patient is unsure, just asking how they’re feeling and letting them answer can go a long way towards calming the situation. Demonstrate that you understand why they’re feeling hesitant and address any questions or concerns to ease their mind. If they have a question you can’t answer, let them know that you’ll find someone who can.
#2 Explain Why
Patients are eager to feel confident in you and your medical advice. Explaining the rationale behind each prescription helps the patient understand why this drug was prescribed, how it can improve their condition, and reassures them that you have come to this decision through your expertise. When patients get the why, they’re less likely to push back on treatment recommendations.
#3 Cover Drug Safety Testing & Side Effects
Negative stories stick with people better than positive ones. It’s likely your patient has heard at least one prescription drug horror story and failed to factor in the millions of prescription drug successes that don’t make the news. Many people do not realize that it often takes over a decade of drug safety testing before a drug is offered for prescription. An overview of this process can help alleviate safety fears:
Testing in the Lab
Before drugs can be tested in animals or humans, scientists work to understand exactly how they affect cells grown dishes in the laboratory. This technology is advancing to the point where researchers can use actual human heart cells to assess heart safety and actual liver cells to assess toxicity. By the time a drug leaves the lab, scientists have a detailed understanding of how it impacts human cells.
Next, drugs are tested on mice or other animals. This testing is done to make sure that no unexpected effects arise in a full organism. These trials help ascertain the appropriate dosages and safe levels of the drug before moving into humans.
The final stage of drug safety testing is a series of clinical trials in human patients. Often these trials are run double-blind, meaning that both patients and doctors don’t know who is getting medication and who is getting a placebo. This helps to eliminate bias and ensure accurate results.
These studies work to confirm that a drug does what it’s supposed to do without causing side effects that outweigh the benefit. Drugs that are not safe and effective don’t pass.
Any and all side effects that arise during clinical trials are recorded and make it into that sometimes daunting list of potential side effects that come with a prescription. Explain that no patient experienced all of these effects and cover which are likely and which are uncommon. This helps keep patients from feeling overwhelmed by the prescription literature without context.
Knowledge is Comfort
Taking the time to listen to your patients, explain your treatment rationale, and review how you know a drug is safe can do wonders to build patient confidence and alleviate prescription anxiety. When fears are reduced, patients are more likely to accept their treatment plan and stick to their medication schedule, and less likely to contest your advice.
Marc Pourrier has aPh.D. in pharmacology, with 15 years' experience in electrophysiology, and 7 years in drug discovery. He is the co-founder of IonsGate Preclinical Services Inc.