Bring Exceptional Care to Health Care for Frightened Patients

Pharmacist Hayley Hooks vaccinates the first wave of additional dose recipients at the Kinney Drugs in Essex Junction, Vermont.

Pharmacist Hayley Hooks vaccinates the first wave of additional dose recipients at the Kinney Drugs in Essex Junction, Vermont.

When caring for elderly patients who are not cognitively sound, “It occurred to me that I had to simplify things a little bit and I had to talk with them in a different way,” said Hayley Hooks, BSPharm, a staff pharmacist at Kinney Drugs in Essex Junction, Vermont, referring to her time working at a memory care facility’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

For Hooks, caring for patients with memory loss posed a distinct type of vaccine concern—one in which she had to build a different type of connection with a vulnerable population. “These patients were often already very scared, agitated, and didn’t know what was going on or have a good understanding of their surroundings,” said Hooks. She made it her mission to ensure they felt safe and heard.

Hooks connected with patients at the memory care facility by reading basic human emotions. “Sometimes their faces had the look of confusion and fear,” said Hooks. “I held their hand and we spoke with our eyes. I told them it would be okay, they could trust me, and that I would not do anything to harm them.” Since Hooks was determined to make sure the patients were at peace before giving them the vaccine, she sat down and talked to them to make sure they knew they were in good hands, and she was there to help protect them from COVID-19.

“This was the first step for me in understanding how to speak in patient-friendly language with this population,” said Hooks. She knew she had to repeat her message and help them feel comfortable and settled before vaccinating them.

“When I became a pharmacist almost 25 years ago, I never thought I would ever give vaccines. Then when I started vaccinating people, I realized just how intimate this relationship with someone that is trusting you to inject them with a vaccine is,” said Hooks referring to the closeness and vulnerability people placed in her hands. “Imagine someone with cognitive delay due to memory loss or traumatic brain injury looking at you and asking, ‘Who are you?’”

Practice Pearl

Use your senses to pick up on patients’ emotional distress. Listen to their concerns and simply talk with them until they feel ready to be vaccinated.

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Although judging their comfort level was elusive at times, Hooks was able to see relief from emotional distress in people by addressing their concerns. Some were very scared, but the intangible human connection through body language, conversation, tone, and eye contact helped her sense when they were ready to be vaccinated.

Hooks was able to transform her experience into an invaluable learning opportunity for her students. “Even though they have so much academic knowledge, you have to teach them how to use it in a practical setting,” she said. Teaching her students to utilize nonverbal communication skills in the real world gave them a patient-level experience that the classroom could never replicate and allowed the students to effectively demonstrate their knowledge about how to protect patients from COVID-19.

—Clarissa Chan
August 2021

Learn more about how to Build YOUR Vaccine Confidence.