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What Can My Pharmacist Do for Me?

Pharmacists are a critical part of the health care team. Many supervise pharmacy technicians, who prepare medicine to fill your prescriptions. But today's pharmacists do much more. They counsel you on how to use your medicine correctly. They may work beside your doctor in the hospital to help make the best medication choices for you. And they help prevent overdoses and dangerous drug interactions by tracking the amounts and combinations of the drugs you take.

Many states require pharmacists to offer to educate patients on every prescription they dispense. And having pharmacists work directly with patients, nurses, and doctors in the hospital reduces adverse drug reactions and overall death rates in hospitals.

A drug specialist

Your pharmacist is a drug expert. He or she can help you get the most out of your medication by sharing important information on how to use it. Should you take your prescription drug before or after meals? Is it necessary to stay out of the sun or avoid particular foods while taking your prescription? What over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, or other remedies should you avoid while taking a medicine or if you have a particular medical condition? Your pharmacist will be able to answer these questions, as well as educate you on other health-related matters.

Pharmacists are uniquely qualified to assume this role. They have at least five years, and most have six years, of professional education; some also complete one to two years of residency training. In addition, they must complete continuing education courses to satisfy state licensing requirements.

Be an informed consumer of your health care: Choose your pharmacy carefully, then use just that pharmacy. When you use only one pharmacy for all your prescription needs, it's easier for your pharmacist to consult your complete personal drug history to keep track of the medicines you are taking. And, of course, make sure to ask your pharmacist any questions you have about your prescriptions.

Having a good relationship with your pharmacist is especially important if you are a member of a consumer-directed health plan, such as a medical savings account. These plans place more of the financial responsibility for health care decisions on your shoulders. 

How to pick a pharmacy

The decision is up to you. But it may help you to visit various pharmacies to see what they can offer you.

Here's a checklist:

  • How convenient is it to use?

  • Is it clean and does it seem to be operating smoothly?

  • Is the staff courteous and friendly? It helps to ask the staff questions and pay attention to the answers you receive; it will give you a hint of what it's like to deal with them.

  • Does it offer services important to you and your family? Examples are a delivery service, emergency services if you travel, diabetes care services, and medical equipment.

  • If your insurance plan has a limited network of pharmacies, be sure the pharmacy you select is part of this network or you may have to pay more for your medications. 

Review the pharmacy's website. Look for online services such as prescription refills, online money-saving medication coupons, medication information, and e-mail access to the pharmacist for questions.