Joshua Holland, PharmD, BCPP, PLPC
Cox Health Systems
One of the primary jobs of a pharmacist is to inform others about medications while increasing adherence, safety, and overall outcomes. Medication education groups help educate multiple people at the same time and create opportunities for patients to learn from a professional as well as each other. I have led medication groups at an acute inpatient psychiatric facility for about seven years and have found it to be a rewarding experience.
If you are interested in starting a medication group, here are some common questions or concerns that may come up:
I was able to start a medication group at the hospital by working with other staff members who were already conducting groups. Recreational therapists, social workers, and behavioral health technicians are great individuals to work with and helped me get into the group schedule on the psychiatry units. In an outpatient setting, I would try to contact social workers, case managers, or other professionals that are already responsible for developing groups or educational materials. I know pharmacists who have contacted non-profit organizations they are passionate about serving and have offered to start medication groups for them with success.
Topics can vary widely, but most of the groups I have led or observed focus on specific disease states, medication classes, or pharmacology terms. An example of topics from broad to narrow would be the following: Depression > Antidepressants > SSRIs > Serotonin withdrawal syndrome. Regardless of the topic, the hardest part about leading medication groups is explaining concepts on a level that the group members can understand. For me, it took practice trying out different ways of explaining concepts and sometimes using relatable metaphors or analogies to help group members understand the concepts I was explaining. Some general examples of these are comparing how the brain works to how car engines work or comparing the physical habit of working out to the mental habits of meditation and mindfulness. Also, games and activities can be helpful in creating a fun, hands-on learning environment, which improves patient engagement. CPNP’s patient medication education groups (PMEG) community has examples of activities that have been created by members and used in their groups to help educate patients.
I think there are pros and cons to both formats. The structured format provides more control over what is discussed and helps to focus the group’s attention on the topic. This makes it easier to cover topics thoroughly and focus on what the group leader wants to educate on. The con of this format is that patients may not feel as invested in the topic as it may not pertain to them personally. Some patients have expressed that this format feels more like they are being “talked at” rather than being “talked with.”
The Q&A format is the format that I use most often and have received the most feedback about (mostly positive). Patients may take a while to open up with their questions, but they engage in a back and forth conversation once they do feel comfortable. Patient surveys indicate that they feel like the groups are beneficial and that the pharmacist addressed what they cared about most. The con of this group format is that it does open the door for inappropriate or off-topic conversations where the leader must actively redirect the conversation.
The one frustration or downside to leading medication groups is dealing with difficult patients or situations. They may test your patience and your ability to think on your feet. A few years ago, I gave a presentation on ways to address these difficult issues that members can access on the CPNP website. The general advice I have for these situations is to always acknowledge verbally what is going on and the persons involved and then take action. Don’t forget to take a moment to take a few deep breaths to think (if possible) and understand that it is ok to make mistakes. There have been times where I have had to go back and apologize or have a follow-up conversation with a patient because of a decision I had made earlier during group.
I hope that this information helps encourage those wanting to lead medication education groups to start one. Just keep in mind that the CPNP PMEG community is a great resource and has many pharmacists that have been leading groups for years. You can join any of CPNP’s communities online. Don’t hesitate to make connections and reach out for help to your fellow CPNP members.