The Hurdle of Uncertainty

Hurdles ccMelindaHuntley

“You should check with your doctor on that.”

“Let me just fax your doctor and I will get back to you.”

“This medication interacts with one of your other pills.  I will just call your doctor and see what he wants to do.”

“This dose isn’t quite right. Let me fax your dentist and check with her.”

Pharmacists face many challenges in their day, and solving drug related problems is one of the biggest.  Historically, without the power to enact change for our patients, we abdicated the responsibility for drug therapy problems back to our physician colleagues.   With the changing scope of practice sweeping across the country, many pharmacists are faced with having to use their skills to make clinical decisions which previously they would have deferred to another prescriber.

Pharmacists take patient safety as one of the pillars of practice.  We double and triple check everything, look into more than one reference when we’re unsure and refer when we don’t have a clear picture of the patient’s health.  This tendency towards “needing to be sure” is both an asset and a hurdle.

When I ask pharmacists what barriers they are experiencing that has them directing patients back to another prescriber for drug therapy problems they could easily solve within their scope of practice, I hear things like:  “I’m just not sure.”  “What if it’s something more serious?” “The references don’t agree.”  “I don’t want to take responsibility for that.”  “What if I make the wrong choice?”

While I always advocate for clinicians to care for patients within their scope of knowledge and skill, in many cases pharmacists have both the expertise and the ability and still choose to refer.  It is the hurdle of uncertainty.

Today I heard one of the most impressive explanations of the learning shift that one pharmacist has moved through on the road of practice change.

The most important thing I learned is that uncertainty is a natural part of our clinical decisions and that taking responsibility for our decisions and following up with patients can alleviate the burden of it.

Uncertainty will always be with us as medicine is both a science and an art.  Objective and subjective data collection, patient assessment, making clinical decisions, follow up…. all involve a combination of knowledge, experience and skill and the ability to make a decision that we take responsibility for.  The relationship with the patient and ability to follow up on the results of our decisions not only make us more effective at solving drug related problems, but provides a wealth of additional experience and knowledge to improve our practice and ultimately the care of our patients.

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