DUNKIRK, Md. – The pharmacy team at Safeway #1129 in Dunkirk, Maryland, believes that behind every prescription is a person with a story. And taking an active interest in that person and their story is what keeps customers coming back time and time again.
Mary Reneé O’Brien, R.Ph., the pharmacy manager, says she knows a pharmacy can be a cold, impersonal place. “Here’s the prescription, here’s the drug, here’s the payment, and goodbye.” But she says she and her team—which consists of pharmacist Angele Kamdem, Pharm.D., and pharmacy technicians Marla Latchman, Darshi Dhora, Evelyn Johnson, and Maxwell Knight—try to connect with patients on a personal level with every transaction.
O’Brien and her staff ask about patients’ pets. They inquire about a patient’s parent who may be ill or their child who just started preschool. On top of that, they go out of their way to counsel their patients on the drugs they are picking up. Why the extra attention? Because, says O’Brien, when you take an interest in people, they will keep coming back.
It’s their focus on teaching their patients about their medications that made their team the Best Pharmacy for Education this year. Here, we speak with Dr. Kamdem, O’Brien, Knight, and Latchman about how their team goes above and beyond.
What’s your team dynamic like?
Angele Kamdem, Pharm.D. (pharmacist): We support each other. And we trust each other. When you can wake up in the morning and want to come to work because you know you have people you can count on, that makes a big difference.
What’s the team’s approach to patient education?
Mary Reneé O’Brien, R.Ph. (pharmacy manager): When a patient comes into the pharmacy, we try to simply accept and listen—and there’s a big difference between hearing and listening.
People will normally give you a clue as to what they actually need from you. If you’re observant, and you’re interested, and you listen, then you can certainly begin that empathizing process. Once they realize that they have your ear and you have compassion, they open up quite easily.
We support each other. And we trust each other.
How do you educate your patients about their medications?
Dr. Kamdem: We help them diagnose what’s going on with their body before we give them something. For example, if we have someone looking for something to treat a cough, I’ll ask them, “Is it a wet cough or a dry cough?” They’ll say, “What do you mean?” And I’ll tell them, “Well, if you have a wet cough, you can use this. But if you have a dry cough, you need this.” Patients really appreciate this type of care.
O’Brien: With every prescription, the technician actively asks: “Is this medication new to you? Have you taken this medication before? Do you have any questions?” And if they do, then Angele or I will step up to the register and take them aside and have a discussion.
We have even fielded calls from patients who used to be with us but were forced to go somewhere else because of their insurance or location. Even though they don’t fill their medications with us anymore, I’m still their go-to source for information. That’s what we want! In addition to dispensing medication, we want to be your source for information about the drug.
Why do you think your team goes above and beyond for customers?
Maxwell Knight (pharmacy technician): I think it all stems from Reneé, our pharmacy manager. She has always had a patient-first mentality. Everything we do, we do to make the patient happy. If a patient needs a little extra time, we take the extra time. A lot of pharmacies tend to feel like assembly lines, but we try to avoid that. We take the extra time to talk to the patients. We have regulars whom we know pretty well. We try to make small, human connections with customers every day.
In addition to dispensing medication, we want to be your source for information about the drug.
Marla Latchman (pharmacy technician): We really like our customers, and we want to keep them happy. For example, if insurance doesn’t cover a prescription, we’ll search for a discount card just to help them out. We give them good recommendations and counseling. We always try to accommodate them. If they need something, we’re going to help them.
Dr. Kamdem: I care about my patients. We have an older couple who come in here, and every time they’re here, they tell everyone around them that the only reason they come to this store is for the pharmacy. The husband has cancer, and we will call and check on him, and his wife will ask us questions about his treatment. They always bring us food or send flowers. They are so appreciative.
Can you tell us about a time when your team’s education made a big impact?
O’Brien: We have had a number of people come to us for their COVID boosters who got their first set of shots at a mass vaccination clinic. Before each vaccination, we go over with the patient what the administration technique will be, what adverse reactions to look for, and if there are any contraindications. Over and over again, they say they wish they had this information at the start, that it would have allayed some of their fears and concerns. That makes us feel good.
Praise from customers
“Many times this team interceded for me with my insurance company and my many doctors to ensure my prescriptions don’t conflict. When a particular med needs to be refilled early, they always make sure my dosages are not interrupted.”
“They were so supportive when I had an organ transplant; they always asked about me and took care of me when I was able to go back to the pharmacy.”
“They always honor coupons for medicines not fully covered by Medicare.”