Objectives: To investigate a new method for evaluating counselling performance of staff in community pharmacies and to assess the quality of patient counselling.
Method: Trained pseudo customers, instructed to play their role according to two different self-medication scenarios, visited voluntarily participating community pharmacies in Berlin. After documenting the counselling process, immediately after each visit, outside the pharmacy on an assessment form, the pseudo customer re-entered the pharmacy and gave detailed performance feedback to the counsellor and the pharmacist in charge in order to provide support for improving counselling skills and practice behaviour, when appropriate. This was followed with a written summary of the general performance of all participating pharmacies and additional individual feedback and suggestions for improvement. Educational needs were identified for subsequent performance-based educational strategies such as group-workshops, team-training and on-site team-coaching.
Results: Forty-nine community pharmacies in Berlin volunteered to participate in this pilot study. Ninety-eight per cent of the participating pharmacies offered advice. However, in 36% of the cases, advice was only given on request. The different types of scenarios--presentation of a symptom or request for a specific product--made a great difference to the spontaneity of questions and advice. At least one question to check on accuracy of self-diagnosis was asked in 95% of the cases of symptom presentation but in only 47% of the cases of specific product request. Information on appropriate self-medication was provided on at least one item in 74% of pseudo customer visits, but most of the time the information was not sufficient. Communication skills (nonverbal elements, comprehensibility etc.) were very good or good in 54% of the visits. Potential for improvement was mainly in relation to the use of open-ended questions to gain more information and on counselling about appropriate self-medication. Direct feedback was given in 96% of the pharmacies (one person refused to accept feedback and one feedback had to be postponed because of time shortage). All of the participants regarded counselling as an important subject in pharmacy practice.
Conclusion: The pseudo customer method was successfully used in this study of German community pharmacies. It was shown that pseudo customer visits and performance feedback following the counselling process, were feasible in daily practice and well accepted by the participants. A training program, focussing on areas in most need of improvement, has been developed. The promising results have led to the Federal Chamber of Pharmacists in Germany adopting this method as part of a continuous quality improvement program in community pharmacies.