The Practice of Counseling in Pharmacy :Patients’ Perspectives


Dr. Laila Ali Layqah1,  Dr. Yousif S. Alakeel2, Dr. Jinan Z. Shamou3

1King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC)

2King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences (KSAU-HS)

3Xian Jiaotong University China, Xian Jiaotong University, China

*Corresponding Author E-mail:,,



Aim: The objective of the study was to assess pharmacists’ counseling practices from the patient perspective usingthe United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Medication Counseling Behavior Guidelines (MCBG) questionnaire. Methods:Thiswas a cross-sectional study conducted over4 monthsin the outpatients section of the pharmacy department in two tertiary care hospitals:King Abdulaziz Medical City, Riyadh, and King Fahad Medical City.Participants were randomly selected to complete theUSP-MCBG questionnaire, and gave their full consent to the data collector.USP-MCBG questionnaire is an interactive approach between the patient and the pharmacist, which takes into account the patient’s special needs, beliefs and perceptions about medication use .The questionnaire included 33items with a two-point response scale. The questionnaire was divided into four sections corresponding to the four stages of the medication counseling process. Results: During thestudy period, 520subjects wereenrolled and of these, 486 responded to our questionnaire (response rate: 93%). The study population was gender balanced; most respondents (88%) were Saudi nationals, and 49% reportedhaving at least high school education.There were no differences between the socio-demographic profiles of participants at the two study sites. The overall mean USP-MCBG score of satisfaction was 3.18 ±0.11 (highest score is 5).Within subsections of the questionnaire, ‘Management oftreatment’ scored the highest (1.14±0.05) and ‘Communication’ scored the lowest (0.35±0.03).In terms of medication counseling, more than >80% of patientshad a positive perception and were satisfied with the performance of outpatientpharmacists. At almost all stages of the counseling process, there was a slightly inverselyproportional relationship between patient age and satisfaction with pharmacist performance. Conclusion: Using the USP-MCB guidelines, patients’ perceptionof and satisfaction with pharmacists counseling in the outpatient setting was positive. Greater effort is needed to ensure effective counseling services in particular subpopulations, such as in the elderly. In general, patients were more satisfied with pharmacist counseling pertinent to “management of treatment”, however, they were less satisfied regarding the pharmacists' way of communication


KEYWORDS: Assessment, Patient counseling, Pharmacists, Perspective.



Continuous improvement of quality and safety in patientcare has become imperative.Patient education about medication is anessential componentof the practice of pharmaceutical care1. In this context, counseling is ‘a face-to-face interaction between the pharmacist and the patient or caregiver’2.Patient counseling should include an assessment of the patient’s understanding and comprehension of the appropriate use of their medication. It should also includean assessment of the patient’s awareness of how to use the information given by the pharmacistin order to ensure morepositive outcomes of the prescribed medication3. This approach of patient education was endorsed by The American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) which proposes four steps to effective patient counseling: (1) establishing caring relationships; (2) assessing the patient’s knowledge, attitude, physical and mental capability; (3) providing visual aids in addition to oral information; and (4) verifying patients’ understanding5

According to the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Medication Counseling Behavior Guidelines (MCBG), medication counseling is an interactive approach between the patient and the pharmacist, which takes into account the patient’s special needs, beliefs and perceptions about medication use4, 5


USP is an official, non-profit, public health organization that monitors and ensures the safety and quality standards of medicine. USP developed the MCBG, which defines the main concepts of patient counseling6. This guideline gives a comprehensive review of the main components of counseling, and has been used as a tool to evaluate the counseling process6.


Effective medication counseling has a significant effect on patients’ compliancewith the treatment plan7. Without sufficient knowledge, patients cannot efficiently manage their own care.Consequently, failing to adhere to treatment instructions commonly leads to serious negative outcomes8such as disease progression, lowered quality of life and  death, in addition to increased health care costs. Medication counselling before patient discharge from the hospital significantly reduces the adverse drug reactions after discharge14


Previously published studies of pharmacy practice have addressed the value of the pharmacist’s adviceto the patient as part of their treatment9.A survey of 500 Malaysia patients was conducted to assess the extent of pharmacists’ involvement in patient education and addressed types and items of instructions provided to patients by their pharmacists. Thepatients’ satisfaction with the pharmacist counseling was 72%. The most often communicated instruction given by pharmacists was dosinginformation10.

Another study conducted in Dubai, United Arab Emirates11, aimed to evaluate the outpatient pharmacists counseling practice and to assess the patients’ perceptions of their pharmacist using USP-MCB guidelines. The authors reported that almost 42% of the study participants did not receive counseling from their pharmacists although the patients were believe that they need it. Of those received counseling, 80.7% were highly satisfied with the pharmacist counseling performance.

There have been fewstudies conducted in Saudi Arabia addressing medication counseling in pharmacy12, 13.Thirty five percent of people who were surveyed in community pharmacy setting reported that medications counselling by pharmacist improved their compliance with prescribed medication and forty three percent of them appreciate the role of pharmacist in solving their medication-related problems12.  In contrast, another  study conducted in Riyadh , Saudi Arabia14 to evaluate the counseling practice in community pharmacies found deficiencies in dispensing practice and medication counseling. Authors provided recommendation to stakeholders and policy makers to work toward improving the current dispensing practice in community pharmac14.Clinical pharmacists have an important role in pain management, anti-coagulation therapy, hyperlipidemia as well as provide education in diabetic care, and asthma patients15. Also clinical pharmacists provide through Medication Therapy Management services by guiding, identifying and monitoring drug related issues faced by the patients15.


Studies to evaluate pharmacists’ counseling practice in tertiary care outpatient setting in Saudi Arabia are lacking. Therefore, we conducted this study in tertiary hospitals aiming to provide information about pharmacists’ compliance with medication counseling in accordance to the USP Medication Counseling Behavior Guidelines and to evaluate the patients’ perception of pharmacist counseling performance.



Using the USP-MCBG, a cross-sectional study was designed to evaluate the pharmacist counseling practice and to assess patients’ perspectives of the counseling they received from pharmacists regarding their medications4, 5.


Study sites:

The study was conducted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,betweenJune andOctober 2016, in the outpatient section of the pharmacy departmentsoftwo tertiary care hospitals: KingAbdulaziz Medical City (KAMC; 1000 beds), and King Fahad Medical Citymain hospital (KFMC; 459 beds). Both study sites are tertiary, teaching and Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited governmental hospitals located in Riyadh city, Saudi Arabia. KAMC provides health services mainly to Saudi National Guard (NG) members, nevertheless, large number of non-NG patients are referred to the hospital and receive health care similar to that of NG patients. On the other hand, KFMC is a Ministry of Health (MOH) institution provides health care to referred patients from other MOH primary hospitals.


Outpatient pharmacy of both hospitals consists of one pharmacy place and outer separated male and female waiting area with several dispensing desks/windows that do not offer complete patient privacy. Approximately 110 pharmacists and 60 pharmacy technicians in KAMC, and 34 pharmacists and 25 pharmacy technicians in KFMC provide high standard medications filling, dispensing and counseling. In both site, the person authorized to dispense medications and communicate medications information with the patient is only a pharmacist who have completed bachelor or doctor of pharmacy degree, i.e. the pharmacy technicians are excluded from this privilege.


Data collection:

Patients eligible for inclusion in this study were all those picking upfilled prescriptions from the outpatient pharmacy, who were Arabic speakers, literate and aged 18 years and over.A total of 520subjectswere recruited forthe study. Data weregathered on 3 days per week, morning and afternoon, over a period of 4 months.Participants gave their consent to the data collector before being randomly selected to fill out thequestionnaire. The whole process lasted fewer than 30 minutes.


The USP-MCBG was used to assess the counseling delivered by pharmacists onindividual medications. It is a flexible tool that can be changed in several ways without diminishingits credibility orstability. The questionnaire was translated into Arabic and validatedby carrying out a pilottest on a sample of 20 participants before and after translation.


The questionnaire:

The questions (Appendix1) usedinthe study were divided intotwo parts: (1) participants’ socio-demographic information, and (2) patients’ perception of the medication counseling they received.

Thesecond part of the questionnaire included33items with a two-point response scale(Yes/No). The medication counseling process was divided into four stages:

1.      Needs assessment:

This section addresses medication information transfer, during which the pharmacist provides the patient with basic, brief information about the safety and proper use of the medication.


2.      Precautions and warnings:

This part concerns about medication information exchange, during which the pharmacist provides information, and responds to the patient’s questions and concerns aboutmedication side effects, drug interactions, safety, and precautions.


3.      Management of treatment:

This section concerns about medication education, during which the pharmacist provides the patient with detailed information about appropriate use of the medication in an interactive manner.


4.      Communication:

This section addresses medication counseling, during which the patient has anopen,detailed discussion with the pharmacist regarding any medication-related problems.


Ethical statement:

The study was approved by the research ethics committee of King Abdullah International Medical Research Center, and conducted in accordance with the International Conference on Harmonization Good Clinical Practice Guideline. The data collector obtained permission from pharmacists and pharmacy administration to approach their patients after their prescriptions were dispensed so that patients could complete the questionnaire


Data Analysis

Assuming a compliance of 50%, type one error of 0.05 and precision of 5%, the optimal required sample size was calculated to be 520.


Data wereentered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, coded, and cross-checked for accuracy. Thereafter, data were analyzed using SPSSversion 22.0, and the internal consistency of the questionnaire was determined by a pilot study.


Data were presented as mean ±SD for all quantitative variables, and as percentages and frequencies for the categorical variables.The chi-square test was used to assess statistical significance between the results of different questions. P-values less than 0.05 were considered statically significant.



Of the520 eligible subjects who were approached to take part in the study, 486responded to our questionnaire, givingaresponse rate of 93%.Analysis of the socio-demographic data collected (Table I) revealed thatthe study population was gender balanced, predominantly ofSaudi origin (88%), and 49% of respondents had at least completed high-school level of education. There were no significant differences between the socio-demographic profiles of participants at the two sites.

The Cronbach’s alpha score for all 33questionnaire items was 0.74. The overall mean score of satisfactionwas 3.18 ±0.11(5 indicates most satisfied and 1 indicate least satisfied). Within subsections of the questionnaire, ‘Management oftreatment’ scored the highest (1.14±0.05) and ‘Communication’ scored the lowest (0.35±0.03) (Table II)


1.      Needs Assessment

Participants’ overall perception of their pharmacist’s assessment of their needswasgenerally positive (>80%) despite a slight inverse relationshipbetween patients’ages andtheir satisfaction levels.Our study shows that respondents’ views did not significantly differ (p>0.05)betweengendersor among people of different education levels. There was, however, a statistically significant difference(p<0.001) between different age groups, where group age (38-47) show highest number of satisfaction level.


2.      Precautions and warnings

Participants’ overall satisfaction with this stage of the medication counseling process was positive (>80%). There was a slight inverse relationshipbetween participants’ ages and their satisfaction with the pharmacists’ counselingperformance. There was also a statistically significant (p=0.001)difference between patients of differenteducational levelsin terms of their perception of the pharmacist’s explanation ofside effects. People with elementary level of education and lower reported less (≤80%) appreciation of pharmacist counseling regarding the medication side effects, whereas more educated people reported higher (>90%) appreciation. No significant difference (p >0.05) was found between gendersor differentage groups.


3.      Management of Treatment

The results of our survey reveal that the patients are generally satisfied with pharmacists’ counseling performance pertinent to “management of treatment”. In fact, they reported higher satisfaction levels in this respect when compared with other stages of counseling process. Satisfaction percentages range from 80-95% among all groups of different genders, ages or educational levels.No significant difference (p >0.05) was found between the responses of patients of different genders, agesoreducational levels.


4.      Communication

Approximately 87% of themales and 95% of the females answered‘Yes’ (p=0.002) to a question aboutwhetheror not they thought the pharmacist provided accurate informationabouttheir medications. In addition, 95% of the males and 89% of the females (p=0.012) reported that the pharmacist told themat least name and indication of their prescribed medications. Although majority of the patients acknowledged that the pharmacist told them this basic medication information, they, nevertheless gave the least satisfaction levels to the pharmacists’ style of communication. No significant differences (p >0.05) were found between patients of different ages or educational levels.


Table I: Demographic Characteristics of the Study Cohort (n=486)

Demographic Characteristic












18 - 27




28 - 37




38 - 47




48 - 57














Education level







High school






Post Graduate




King Abdul Aziz Medical City



King Fahad Medical City




Table II:  Patients’ Perception Analysis

Overall Scores


Needs Assessment Score

0.79 ± 0.04

Precaution and Warning Score

0.90 ± 0.04

Management and Treatment Score

1.14 ± 0.05

Communication Score

0.35 ± 0.03

Overall Score

3.18 ± 0.11



This study investigates the patients’ perception of pharmacists’ counseling practice in outpatient setting using USP-MCBG questionnaire. This study has an excellent response rate when it is comparedwith similar studiesthat wereconducted in Riyadh and Alhasah, Easter region of Saudi Arabia16(93%, 85%  66.3% respectively). Factors contributing to this high response rate could be that it was easy to access and was quick to complete.


In our study, despite some differences among patients with different age groups or educational levels, participantsgenerally appreciate the pharmacists’ assessment of their health needs, and they acknowledge the good pharmacists’ counseling regarding medication side effects and treatment plan. In addition, majority of patients acknowledge that the pharmacists communicated the basic information about their prescribed    medications such as medication name and indication of its use. However, the way of the pharmacist’s communication with the patientsscored was the lowest among all four stages of the USP-MCBG for medication counseling process. This observation could be due to the participants’ limited awareness of their rights as patients to receive the information regarding their medications in a structured counseling by the pharmacist.


Communicating is an inherited skill, whereas, effective communication with the patients can be learned and practiced. It definitely can be affected by the person’s age, gender, educational level and background.  In this study, we found that the pharmacists generallymet the patients’ needs in pharmacotherapy and knowledge regarding the medications. However, the patients gave the leastsatisfaction level to thestyle of their pharmacists’ communication compared to other stages of counseling process, which indicates the need for improvement in patient-pharmacist communication to ensure effective counseling. 


Countries such as the United States (USA) have already developed rules and regulations to mandate medications’ counseling by the pharmacist upon medications dispensing to the patient. Therefore, Pharmacy schoolsin USA have includedcourses of pharmacy law and communication skills to their academic curricula17in order to help the graduated pharmacists to meet the government regulations andto fulfill their liability throughdeliveringeffective medication counseling. Pharmacy education and practice in Saudi Arabia are described to be similar to that in USA18. Seeking national and international accreditation, colleges of pharmacy in Saudi Arabia have recently introduced social and behavioral courses such as pharmacy communication course to their curricula, which may improve communication skills of the graduated pharmacists18


US pharmacists in community pharmacyoffered some form of patient education to almost 70% of the patients pursuant to the implemented government regulations. In our study,higher percentage of patients reported receiving some type of education from the pharmacist.Different settings, community pharmacy vs. hospital outpatient pharmacy, may be an explanation of the better counseling rate observed in our study.


Although the positive overall satisfaction (>80%) of our patients, some important components of ASHP's effective patient counseling steps were not fully met; for example, assessing of patient’s educational, physical and mental capability in addition to providing visual aids, which may explain the different satisfaction level between patients of different educational levels.


When compared to other studythat was conducted in community pharmacy in Riyadh in 201211, findings of our survey show better patient counseling by pharmacist from patient prospective.  Our participants also were more appreciated to the patient educationsessions carried by pharmacist regarding the medications-related problems (80% vs. 43%). Large difference in counseling practice rate was also notedbetween our study and another study conducted in community pharmacy in Riyadh13. The rate of counseling offered by the pharmacists to simulated patients in this study was only 3% and increased to 43 % when the patient asks for more information13. In contrast, at least 90% of the participants of our studyreported that the pharmacist offered themsome type of counseling regarding their medication without being asked to so.Unlike our finding in this study, In Alahsah survey17 of patients in outpatient pharmacy, nearly two-third of the patients reported that they received “poor communication” from the pharmacist.In addition, this study found variable satisfaction levels among group with different ageand gender.


Our study findings are consistent with those of the previous study conducted in Dubai11. We found similarpatients satisfaction level with the pharmacist counseling practice. However, in Dubaistudy, men, older patients, and patient with low educational level reported higher level of satisfaction compared to others categories. In contrast, we found no differences between patients of different characteristics except of statistically non-significant trending downof satisfactions level with increased age.


It is usual to observe people with advanced age report lower satisfaction with educational session that does not consider their specific characteristic. From our study and other study11 findings, we can conclude that elderly is a special group of people with special needs that health care providers should pay more effort to meet their needs in order to deliver an effective health care message. Actions to improve satisfaction of advanced age people may include creating a dedicated counselingroom; establish training program for the pharmacists in addition to having visual and hearing aids available at the dispensing area.


In addition tothe knowledge of pharmacotherapy, pharmacist should possess adequate verbal and non-verbal communication skills in order to be an effective counselor.Sharing objectives of the counseling with the patients and encouraging them to participate in counseling sessions is as important as telling facts aboutthe medications6. Evidence from our findings and findings of other published study6found that the pharmacist, as health care provider, has vitalrolein improving patient health and ensuring quality and safety in patient care when using effective communication style.


In this study, we observed some barriers of effective patientcounseling such as crowded waiting area, long waiting time, lack of privacy and patient illiteracy. Some other studies have cited that time restraints and patient motivation are the most frequent barriers encountered by pharmacists19-21. Lack of a dedicated counseling roomand pharmacist motivation are another barriers21,22Availability of private counseling room found to be asignificant predictor for good counseling practice22. Removing such barriers, implementing rules pertinent to patient education, in addition to offering a continuing pharmacists training program within the institution will ensure effective patient’s counseling.

One limitation of this study is that it was conducted in tertiary, teaching, governmental hospitals, which may have higher standards of medication dispensing practice than primary, non-teaching or private hospitals. Therefore, findings of our study may not reflect the actual nationwide practice. From our observations, practice of  patient counseling upon medications dispensing in some smaller hospitals that are located in rural areas is completely non-exist which may indicate the need for more effort from the  health authority to impose rules aiming to improve patient education. Another limitation of this study was excluding of illiterate people, which may generate selection bias. Hence, the sample may not reflect the actual population if the number of excluded illiterate people is high.



Future research should focus on a nationwide practice of pharmacy in different settings. Another potential research area is to investigate the effect of recent pharmacy schools curricula modifications on pharmacist practice in outpatient and community settings. As well as provide students with effective communication skills to improve patient comprehension of their condition and optimal use of their medications.



Practice of patient counseling by pharmacists in outpatient pharmacy setting was found to be satisfactory. Despite the fact that majority of surveyed patients in this study generally appreciated the pharmacist performance, the pharmacists’style of communication scored the lowest within subsections of the questionnaire. Moreover, there was an inverse proportion relationship between age and level of satisfaction across all stages of medications counseling process. These findings suggest the need for a continuous pharmacist development program that address verbal and nonverbal communication skills, in addition to improvingthe pharmacists’ cultural-competency and age-competency skills.






The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.



We would like to thank King Abdullah International Research Center (KAIMRC) for funding the project and the patientswho took part in this study. We also would like to appreciate the administration team of the pharmaceutical care department at both KAMC and KFMC who facilitate the communication with the patients.



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Received on 07.08.2018                Modified on 18.08.2018

Accepted on 10.09.2018            © A&V Publications All right reserved

Asian J. Res. Pharm. Sci. 2018; 8(3):170-176.

DOI: 10.5958/2231-5659.2018.00030.9