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7 things you didn’t know a pharmacist could do for you
Your pharmacist can do more than just fill prescriptions. Here are seven other ways they can help you stay healthy — often at no extra cost.
Like many people, you probably go to your local pharmacy several times a year. In fact, research has found that people see pharmacists up to 10 times more often than their doctor.1 That makes sense when you learn that nearly 70 percent of Americans ages 40 to 79 take at least one prescription medication.2
Sure, your pharmacist is great at filling prescriptions, but they can do so much more. A pharmacist can help you track medications. They can check for interactions between different medications you take. They can even help you stay well during flu season.
While pharmacists can’t replace your primary care physician (PCP), they work together with your PCP. And they can be important players on your health care team. Here are seven ways pharmacists can help you feel your best.
1. A pharmacist can make sure your meds are working and safe
Your pharmacist can work with your doctor to help choose the best medication for you. To make a recommendation, they look at a few factors, including:
- Any other medical issues you might have
- Side effects of the medication
- Your bloodwork
- Your health plan
“As a pharmacist, I work with doctors daily to go over a patient’s current medicines,” says Ashley Besignano-Long, PharmD. She’s the academic pharmacy supervisor at Staten Island University Hospital in New York.
Once a decision is made on a medication, the pharmacist focuses on helping you, the patient. “I spend time teaching the patient about the medication and how to take it, whether it’s an inhaler, injection or a pill,” says Besignano-Long. After that, a pharmacist can help watch to make sure the medication doesn’t cause any side effects and is working.
2. A pharmacist can check all your medications
More than 22 percent of adults ages 40 to 79 take at least five prescription medications.3 But sometimes not all of them are needed. And the more medications you take, the greater the chance of side effects or drug-to-drug interactions, says Stephanie Redmond, PharmD. Redmond is a Minnesota-based pharmacist and co-founder of Doctor Stephanie’s supplements at diabetesdoctor.com.
The best way to stay away from any unwanted reactions? Get a yearly medication check. This is when you meet with your pharmacist to talk about all the medications you take. That includes over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements.4
Pharmacists have a lot of experience looking for side effects. They can offer advice on preventing or easing them. For example, some medications may cause stomach upset. But a pharmacist knows that taking the medication with food may fend off stomach issues, says Besignano-Long.
Pharmacists also know how medications interact with other ones. That helps them catch problems before they happen. For instance, say you’re prescribed a blood thinner. Your pharmacist knows to warn you against taking ibuprofen. The OTC pain reliever could raise the risk of bleeding.5
3. A pharmacist can help you find the best price for your medications
Health plans have a list of medications they agree to cover. They often have drug “tiers,” or pricing categories. The tiers range in cost from low to high. Usually, the lower the tier, the less you pay.
Your pharmacist can check to see if you’re on the most cost-effective medications. They might find something in a lower-cost tier that works just as well.6 They can also give you coupons or tell you about assistance programs.
4. A pharmacist can help you quit smoking
Some states let pharmacists prescribe medication to help you stop smoking.7 This includes:
- Varenicline (Chantix®)
- Bupropion (Zyban®)
- Nicotine replacement products such as patches or gum
Research shows that pharmacists who work with patients to help them quit smoking are just as successful as doctors.8 Ready to quit smoking? Ask your pharmacist how they can help make it easier for you to kick the habit.
5. A pharmacist can help you make wise OTC choices
If you have a common illness such as a cold or seasonal allergies, you probably pick up an OTC remedy at the pharmacy without thinking much about it. But did you know that some decongestants can raise your blood pressure? Or that an allergy medication could make you feel very sleepy, dizzy and confused?9
“Older adults often choose a sleep aid that has diphenhydramine Benadryl®, for example, which can be harmful,” says Besignano-Long. So before you grab your go-to remedy off the store shelf, talk to the pharmacist. They can guide you to the best and safest choice.
6. A pharmacist can give vaccinations
Sometimes you have to wait a while to get an appointment with your doctor for a flu shot or COVID-19 booster. But you can get these vaccines at your local pharmacy. Other vaccines may also be available there, such as the shingles or pneumonia vaccine. Some pharmacies require appointments for vaccines, but they often have more availability.
Pharmacists in all 50 states are allowed to give vaccinations. And most are covered by insurance.10 Just be sure to get documentation. Then give it to your doctor on your next visit, says Redmond. This way, your shot is noted in your medical records.
7. A pharmacist can do certain health screenings
Are you managing a condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes? Your pharmacy may offer health screenings. These can include blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol checks for a small fee, says Redmond.
Keep a copy of the results. And ask the pharmacist to send them electronically to your doctor. Getting health screenings at your local pharmacy could save you a trip to your doctor’s office. Or it might let you know it’s time to see your PCP for more thorough care.
Other times a pharmacist can help with screenings: When your provider has asked you to monitor your blood sugar or blood pressure from home. They can show you how to use your at-home monitors properly so that you get accurate readings.
When you know all the ways a pharmacist can help you stay healthy and feel your best, it makes sense to make them a regular member of your wellness team. If possible, visit the same pharmacist regularly. The better they know you and your personal needs, the better the advice and support they can offer.
1Tsuyuki RT, Beahm NP, Okada H, et al. Pharmacists as accessible primary health care providers: review of the evidence. Canadian Pharmacists Journal. January-February 2018; 151(1):4-5.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription drug use among adults aged 40-79 in the United States and Canada. August 2019. Accessed June 13, 2022.
3Coe AB, Bynum JPW and Farris KB. Comprehensive medication review: new poll indicates interest but low receipt among older adults. JAMA Health. October 9, 2020; 1(10): e201243.
4Harvard Health Publishing. Bad mix: blood thinners and NSAIDs. December 16, 2019. Accessed June 13, 2022.
5Medicare.gov. What Medicare Part D drug plans cover. Accessed June 13, 2022.
6National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Pharmacist prescribing: tobacco cessation aids. February 10, 2021. Accessed June 13, 2022.
7National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Pharmacist prescribing: tobacco cessation aids: infographic. July 23, 2018. Accessed June 13, 2022.
8FamilyDoctor.org. OTC medicines: know your risks and reduce them. April 29, 2020. Accessed June 13, 2022.
9National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Pharmacist immunization authority. April 25, 2021. Accessed June 13, 2022.
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