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Many people know that they can talk to their doctors about their health and how to manage it. But do you know that pharmacists are also a great source of health information?
Ranked as one of the top most trusted professionals for over 20 years according to the Gallup Poll, pharmacists are experts in medications and have intricate knowledge on how medicines work to treat health conditions. Pharmacists can tell you what your medicine is for, whether it’s dosed appropriately, if it’s safe to use along with other medications you use, how to use your medications correctly and safely, what side effects you may have, among many other important things concerning your health.
Pharmacists go through rigorous training, and typically spend six years of professional study in a wide variety of subjects, including pathophysiology, pharmacology, therapeutics, clinical problem solving, laboratory monitoring, and physical assessment skills for many diseases. Ongoing continuing education is also required of pharmacists, to keep them up-to-date on medications and other aspects of their field.
Behind the Pharmacy Counter
Your community pharmacist has many responsibilities, from dispensing medicine and educating patients, to dealing with your health insurance company. But pharmacists do more than just fill prescriptions.
There are a number of things that pharmacists are able to do, such as:
- Evaluate the medications you use for possible interactions, especially when a new medication is added to the mix
- Counsel you on how to correctly use your medicine, including answer any questions you may have about the purpose of a treatment, when it should start working, etc.
- (in some states) Provide various vaccinations, including flu and pneumonia shots
- Offer advice about which over-the-counter medications may be appropriate for you based on your symptoms
- Provide instructions and resources concerning the safe disposal of unused and unwanted medications
- Perform health and wellness screenings (e.g., blood pressure, cholesterol)
- Help find ways to reduce your prescription costs (e.g., coupons, patient assistance programs)
- Collaborate with other healthcare professionals (e.g., MD, nurse) about issues related to your health
Of course, not all pharmacists work in a community setting like your local retail drug store or the corner pharmacy. There are also pharmacists who work in different settings, such as hospital, long-term care, home infusion pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry.
Speaking with Your Pharmacist
With all the tasks in a pharmacist’s day, you may feel shy about interrupting and asking questions or getting a private counseling session. But it’s important to remember that pharmacists are specifically trained to speak with you about how to use your medicine correctly and safely. They may also be the most accessible healthcare professional for you.
Here are some tips to help you have a fruitful conversation with your pharmacist:
- Go to the pharmacy prepared to initiate a dialogue. Some simple questions can spark the conversation, such as: “This is my first time taking this medication—what should I know about it?” or “What can you tell me about this new medication?” or “I’m not sure if I am taking this medication correctly.”
- If language is an issue, ask about phone interpreters, a service set up in many retail pharmacies, to help you get the information you need.
- If you go to the same pharmacy or pharmacy chain, your medication history should be on file, but if you are new to the pharmacy, your pharmacist may not see what else you may be taking. It may be helpful to provide a complete list of medications you currently take when asking your pharmacist any questions.
- Remind your pharmacist of any allergies you’ve had to medications, even if you think it’s in your file—it’s also good practice to mention it even if it’s an over-the-counter medicine.
- If you have trouble remembering to take your medicines, ask for recommendations. Your pharmacist can also tell you what to do if you miss a dose.
- Let your pharmacist know about any complementary or alternative medicines (think herbal meds) you use—these may interact with your prescription or non-prescription medications.
- Alert your pharmacist to any changes in your conditions or health. If you’re pregnant, let the pharmacist know, and ask about taking medications during pregnancy; pharmacists can tell you what may be safe or unsafe to take.
And in recent years, pharmacy technicians have come to play a more prominent role assisting behind the counter, allowing the pharmacist more free time to talk to you.
George Samman, PharmD is Director of Operations Team Leader for the Publications Management Team at Pfizer Inc. and a practicing community pharmacist.
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