Why building trust is key to delivering crucial care to pharmacy patients

Close-up photograph of doctor holding patient’s hand.

CVS Health pharmacists are often called on to employ not only clinical services, but a fair amount of detective work as well. Patients often report that their diet, exercise, and medications are all in check, but if they’re not experiencing results to match, then it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Elderly or infirm patients can pose special challenges: They can be mistrustful of medical professionals, stuck in old habits, and might not even be physically able to visit their local CVS for prescription recommendations and tests. Often, all the pharmacist has to go on is phone consultations and lab results. And yet, often that’s enough to produce life-changing results.

Pharmacist Angela Stigliano realizes that building trust with patients is a necessary part of the job. She’s a clinical pharmacist for CVS Health’s Medication Therapy Management (MTM) service, and provides care to members over the phone or via video chat.

She shared a recent success story about a patient with diabetes that demonstrates why trust is so important. The percentage of Americans 65 and older with diabetes is high, at about 25.2 percent or 12.0 million seniors (diagnosed and undiagnosed).https://www.diabetes.org/resources/statistics/statistics-about-diabetes It is a disease that can be well-controlled with diet and lifestyle changes — but they’re not always easy to make and adhere to without a helping hand.

Asking the right questions to get a diabetes patient back on track

In March 2018 Stigliano began working with Vicki, a woman in her sixties who reported having a stroke that had left her with mild physical impairments. Though she had a long history with diabetes and high cholesterol, her doctors were confident that she would make a full recovery.

In their initial phone call, Vicki insisted that she followed a strict diet and was very mobile, but given the precarious state of her health, that “didn’t make sense,” says Stigliano: She was gaining weight, her A1C was unstable, and she wasn’t taking her cholesterol medication as prescribed. These factors put her at risk not only for another stroke, but heart disease as well.

Through a series of thirty-minute phone calls every few months, Stigliano fostered a friendly relationship with Vicki.

“I would use phrasing like ‘Tell me about your diet these days,’ instead of saying, ‘Have you been dieting?’ This allowed her to tell me about her diet without the feeling I was searching for a ‘correct answer,’” she says. “It can be difficult to be forthcoming with a stranger about a sensitive topic like being overweight or unable to walk and care for yourself properly.”

These days, there’s a lot of confusion about what a “healthy diet” actually means. Vicki reported trying a keto diet, and skipping meals, both unwise choices for a diabetic.

“Purposely not eating enough can be just as unhealthy as eating fast food every day. Not having enough range in your diet can also become unhealthy as well,” says Stigliano. She recommends the easy-to-follow MyPlate tactic to patients like Vicki. “You’re not telling them what to eat and what not to eat, but to focus more on portion sizes; to look at their diet and their plate a little bit differently.”

A CVS Health clinical pharmacist shares a recent diabetes patient success story that demonstrates the importance of relationship-building in her work.
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After several months, Stigliano was pleased to hear that Vicki had begun to be more honest with herself and her medical team. She compromised with her prescriber, and was put on a low-intensity statin three times a week. And, as Stigliano had gently suggested over the course of their interactions, she began a low-carb, high-protein diet, and increased her physical activity.

All of these changes started to pay off. Vicki’s A1C had been steadily improving due to her adjusting her insulin, but after taking the initiative to make lifestyle changes, she had lost approximately twenty-five pounds, reduced her A1C to consistent readings at or around 7 percent, and mentioned that her LDL cholesterol had come down by 100 points on her latest lab test. And she felt positive, healthy, and empowered.

“When we first started talking, Vicki was not in good spirits,” says Stigliano. “She was very upset about her stroke, and really down, very defeatist. But, after Vicki began to take control of her health, Stigliano says, “It sounded like I was speaking to a whole different person. She was excited to tell me about her lifestyle, the change in her as person. She ended our most recent phone call by saying, ‘I’ll talk to you soon. I need someone to stay on top of me!’”

To learn more about our enterprise-wide approach to diabetes management and care, visit our Managing Diabetes with CVS Health page.

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