Patient Perceptions of an Ambulatory Care Pharmacist

A challenging aspect of working with patients in a primary care clinic is patient perceptions.  If you ask 100 patients what a pharmacist does, they would all likely give you some variation of a description for a dispensing pharmacist. If you are considering being an ambulatory care pharmacist, here’s some patient perceptions you likely will encounter at some point in your career;

  1. Doesn’t my doctor do this? Initially, this is a challenging perception to overcome with some patients.  This perception is usually pretty short lived for most patients.  When patients meet with you while doing MTM, hopefully they will understand the value and education we can provide them about their medications.
  2. Why am I meeting with you? Some patients get sent through the wringer seeing specialist after specialist.  To be honest, some will get appointment fatigue and this certainly can be a barrier for you working with a patient.  Having the patience to help them understand their medications and how meeting with a pharmacist may be extra-advantageous in the setting of multiple providers prescribing medications can help you overcome this barrier.
  3. I already have a pharmacist.  Working in a clinic, this is a bit of a barrier if you are working with a patient that has a great relationship with a community/retail pharmacist.  It is a great thing, but I call it a barrier, because they may not want to meet with a pharmacist in a clinic because of this.  I typically explain to the patient that a good relationship with that community pharmacist is excellent to have.  I try to add additional value by relaying the message that in the clinic setting, I may have additional information such as labs and physician notes that could be essential to understand which medications may be best.  Having an openness to working with that patient and community pharmacist they have a good relationship with can add an additional level of trust and help get our mutual patient to desired clinical goals.
  4. You know more about medications than my doctor. This is definitely a positive perception that some patients have had which I’m certainly greatly appreciative.  It is important to help that patient recognize that we are all a team working together and have different skillsets to offer.  The last thing you want to do is throw a physician you work with under the bus.

Which perceptions do you struggle with?  Please feel free to add others below!

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  1. Christina Loccisano

    I’m a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist working in Primary Care for the VA. Most of my interactions with patients have been positive (#4). I make sure to emphasize that I’m working in collaboration with their PCP, I don’t replace them. I’ve only had one patient who was really negative and essentially anti-pharmacy, saying that he wanted a doctor and only a doctor to adjust his medications because we were not “qualified”. Overall, I think most patients in my setting can appreciate the work we do and the knowledge base we have.

    • Eric Christianson

      Thanks for the comment Christina!

  2. Tony

    What exactly is a “primary care clinic” and how does a dispensing pharmacist figure in?

    I really want to know… I have been doing retail so long that I have no idea what the landscape looks like

    • Eric Christianson

      It is a really good question as healthcare is changing so rapidly. The setting I’ve been working in most recently is a clinic with nurse practitioners, PA’s, and MD’s who see patients within a clinic.

    • Mariana I.

      Hi Tony. If you’re curious about learning of many examples of the role of ambulatory care pharmacists, you may get lots of info and examples in Pharmacy Today – an APhA monthly publication which can be accesses on I also learn a lot about it at PharmTalks during the APhA annual meetings.

  3. Misty

    I think working in the clinical setting, it’s drawing the line between clinical pharmacist and dispensing pharmacist. I also work in Primary Care for the VA helping patients for chronic disease state management and I tell them to reach out to me if they have issues as we adjust their medications (side effects, low blood pressure or blood sugar, etc). But occasionally I’ll get a call asking for “refills” on their medications, which we prefer they call the main pharmacy line for.


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Written By Eric Christianson

April 29, 2018

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