Let's All Recognize the Important Role of Pharmacists

With one out of every two Americans taking at least one prescription drug, it's time we all learn and appreciate pharmacists.
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Senior man talking with pharmacist. Horizontal shot.
Senior man talking with pharmacist. Horizontal shot.

I'm going to be honest --- physicians don't think often about the role of pharmacists. During my training as a resident, we had a pharmacist round on our teams - and it was invaluable, especially as it related to learning about drug-drug interactions as well as medication dosing or appropriate antibiotics. However, once you leave the academic hospital setting, pharmacists aren't typically around in a clinic setting. Occasionally, I get a call from a pharmacist asking to switch one brand of inhaler to another so it can get covered by insurance, or to let me know a specific medication is unavailable. Sometimes they'll call to double-check my amoxicillin dosing or clarification on a prescription. But that's usually it. I rarely if ever call a pharmacist. In addition, many of my physician colleagues think their smart phone can take the role of the pharmacist nowadays. But they are very wrong. Over the years, I have come to learn and appreciate the role pharmacists can and do play in providing quality health care to patients.

Here's an astonishing fact l learned from my colleague Hank Hoang, Pharm D, a licensed pharmacist who pointed out to me that over 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. This is a tremendous opportunity to improve health care that I think we often overlook.

For instance, I recognize that sometimes it can be hard to see your physician on short-notice, especially if you call that morning. Sometimes it may be easier to walk into a pharmacy. Pharmacists can't write a prescription for your ailment, but they can certainly recommend an over-the-counter remedy to alleviate your minor symptoms until you can get in to see your doctor. When a pharmacist makes a product recommendation, patients accept the pharmacist's advice over 90 percent of the time. That's a powerful statement about how consumers value such advice.
In some states, pharmacies are starting to enter working agreements with physicians in order to offer more clinical services. Think you may be coming down with the flu? Imagine walking into your local pharmacy to test for the flu virus and receiving a prescription for Tamiflu within 15 minutes! Out of refills on your medication? Some jurisdictions are already allowing pharmacists to dispense a refill for certain medications. I know there are some doctors that oppose this, thinking pharmacists are encroaching upon their turf. But the reality is that if done correctly, these limited refills cuts down on those pesky faxes and calls to the office and saves patients from missing doses on important medicines.

We all know diabetes is an epidemic. And physicians aren't always the best persons to educate patients about their medicines for diabetes. Some pharmacists can help read your blood sugar levels and make the appropriate changes. And let's be honest -- we need all the help we can get in controlling diabetes.

And let's not forget that pharmacists serve as the last double-check before you get home with your medication. They check dosing, strength, directions, and to make sure you're receiving the right drug. Your pharmacist checks to make sure none of your medications interact with each other, which ones to avoid with grapefruit, and which ones you should take on an empty stomach. Pharmacists can even see what you are taking if you are using different pharmacies. All of this doesn't even come to mind for many physicians.

Occasionally, patients will ask me how much a drug costs. I honestly have no idea since it depends on so many factors. But your local pharmacist knows the answer. One of the most useful, but little known, secrets of pharmacists is they may be able to negotiate with your prescription insurance. We have all seen pharmacies backed up -- often it is because the pharmacist is calling the insurance to minimize cost for patients. This is an important service especially for patients with limited income.

With one out of every two Americans taking at least one prescription drug, it's time we all learn and appreciate pharmacists.

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