Building a Patient-Focused Cannabis Dispensary, Episode 5: Communication

Pharmacy regulations require a registered pharmacist to be on-site during store hours as a centerpiece of the operation. The reality of a medical cannabis dispensary visit is that patients will most likely NOT have direct access to a pharmacist or any clinician for that matter. Individual states create and dictate regulations for medical cannabis programs and while states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas require a pharmacist to be present, the majority do not. Training dispensary staff members in a professional capacity should be considered a priority in filling the crucial gap of the patient’s expectation. Effective communication plays a pivotal role in providing an elevated patient experience and leads to directed product recommendations for patients.

  • Ask open-ended questions

Rephrasing language can effectively extract valuable information from a patient at the counter. The question “Does _______ cultivar help with your chronic pain?” leads to a closed-answer response of yes/no. Instead, open-ended formats with the 5 W’s: Who/What/Where/When/Why (and How) should lead the conversation. Change the above question to “What type of cultivars have worked for your chronic pain?” and the answer leads to 1) immediately identifying if that product is available in the dispensary, 2) figuring out an appropriate substitute based on a similar cannabinoid/terpene profile, and 3) assessing how much experience the patient has with cannabis in general.

  • Use appropriate language

The cannabis industry has perpetuated a 3-class categorical system of Sativa/Indica/Hybrid in an attempt to compartmentalize easily digestible choices for consumers, but this complex plant demands additional layers of consideration. Scientific and medical communities suggest using a system based on THC/CBD ratio but with no universal consensus currently, the S/I/H terminologies remain in circulation. Cannabis professionals have an opportunity to move away from antiquated terms and start building an educational foundation for patients rooted in science. Also, equally important is making a conscious effort to avoid slang/street terminology and utilize medical vocabulary, e.g., “inhalation” instead of “smoke”, “medicated” instead of “getting high”.

  • Remain objective

From a clinician’s perspective, information and counseling points must always be presented objectively and the same should hold true with cannabis. Using cannabis as medicine requires taking a ground-up approach rooted in a highly individualized self-discovery process. When giving product recommendations, dispensary employees should be utilizing data-driven information provided by the dispensary or directly from the cultivators/processors if available. Employees that are also medical patients should recognize that the cultivars and products they personally consume may not be the best choice for another patient, even with the same qualifying condition. Taking an objective approach allows for a personalized approach to a patient’s healthcare.

  • Know your audience

Gauging a patient’s level of cannabis experience dictates the depth and scope of the conversation. Patients well-versed in cannabis will be asking significantly different questions than a cannabis-naive patient. The conversation should be tailored towards developing an educational foundation for the latter in addition to providing the best recommendations for their health needs.

  • Provide consistent messaging

Providing employees with scripts or SOPs is the easiest way to maintain consistent messaging about products and recommendations. The concept of “continuation of care” should flow effortlessly between employees and begins with having a centralized database of patient or product-driven data. Third-party companies like Headset.io and Pistil Data are currently leading this space within the cannabis industry.

  • Use the teach-back method

A patient’s first visit to the dispensary may lead to an information overload, but an easy way to affirm understanding is by using the teach-back method. Always ensure the dialogue continues as a two-way street and use active listening skills to recognize when to take a step back and assess if the message is being received by the patient accurately. Using the teach-back method builds consumer confidence levels and will drive an emphasis on self-empowerment for future product selection.

What other aspects of communication can be valuable in providing a stellar patient experience? As always, let’s continue the conversation.

For current operators, are you ready to add another layer of professionalism to staff members driving patient loyalty and repeat visits? Let’s chat!


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