The Expanding Role of Pharmacists in Your Health Care
A pharmacist is a valuable member of your health care team. Learn about taking your medications safely.

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image of woman talking to her pharmacist The Expanding Role of Pharmacists in Your Health Care

Meet an important member of your health care team: Your pharmacist. This medical professional is often right down the street or easily available by phone. You don't even need an appointment to talk to one!

Pharmacists help you learn how to use medicines safely. They can tell you what each of your medicines is for. They can describe the benefits of taking them and the risks of not taking them. Pharmacists can talk with your doctor if they notice you're taking a medication that might not be needed. Or they may notice you are not taking a medication you should take based on your health conditions.

It is well worth your time to get to know your pharmacist and to let them get to know you. Experts say you should get all your prescriptions filled at one place to keep your medicine records together. This way your pharmacist can see everything you are taking.

Talking to your pharmacist

Here are some basic things to discuss with your pharmacist:

  • All prescription and non-prescription drugs you are taking. Write them down before your pharmacy visit. Be sure to include vitamins, herbal supplements and other over-the-counter products. Your pharmacist will know how certain drugs react to one another. He or she will tell you if the drug can cause drowsiness or affect your ability to work or drive a vehicle. You'll learn whether to expect any side effects.
  • Any allergies you have. Tell them about any possible allergic reactions or signs of sensitivity you've had to medicines, foods or treatments. A rash is one common symptom.
  • Any other health conditions you might have. Tell them whether you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have high blood pressure or get frequent heartburn. Let your pharmacist know about all your health conditions. This will help him or her make sure your prescription drugs are safe for you. They can make sure you aren't taking any over-the-counter medications that might not be good for you.

Be sure to tell your pharmacist anything that could affect your ability to take medicine. Some examples:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Having a hard time reading and understanding labels
  • Trouble remembering to take your medicine

Other ways your pharmacist can help

A pharmacist does not prescribe medication. That's the role of your doctor. But a pharmacist can play a part in helping you save money on health care and helping you to be healthier.

Pharmacists can be particularly helpful when you're choosing an over-the-counter medicine. It can be tricky to pick out the best medicine for a certain ache or symptom. Your pharmacist can help you to pick the right one and tell you what dose is safe for you.

Many brand-name drugs have big price tags. Tell your pharmacist if you're afraid you can't afford your medicine. He or she can give you generic versions of many drugs to save you money.

Almost 80 percent of prescriptions today are filled with generic drugs. They are made of the exact same active compound as their counterpart brand-name drugs. And they are just as safe and effective. Generics are cheaper because the generic manufacturers don't have to repeat expensive trials required for brand-new drugs. They also don't pay as much for advertising. And they compete against other generic manufacturers to give the pharmacies the best price. 

A pharmacist can also advise you how to store your drugs safely. Did you know that the bathroom medicine cabinet is not a good place for storing drugs? That's because a lot of moisture and heat can break down drugs and make them less effective.

Pharmacists will talk to you about taking the proper dose and what to do if you miss a dose. They'll tell you whether to take the drug with food and whether to avoid alcohol. They can tell you how often or at what time of day to take the drug.

For liquid medicines, a pharmacist may include a special spoon, measuring cup or other dispenser. A household spoon may not hold the right dosage.

Some pharmacists can give vaccinations right in the pharmacy without an appointment. It may be possible to get your flu shot, shingles vaccination or other vaccination while you visit. Although you may have to pay for the vaccination, getting it in the pharmacy can save you the cost of a clinic visit.

You may get a call from your pharmacy if you don't refill a prescription on time. That's because many people don't take the drugs they are prescribed, or they take them less often to make the prescription last longer. Both of those practices can lead to poor health.

Pharmacists want you to be an important player in your health care. Ask questions and pay attention to their instructions to help get the care you need.

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 05/18/2004
Updated on 09/25/2012
  • Food and Drug Administration. Stop — Learn — Go. Tips for talking with your pharmacist to learn how to use medicines safely.
  • United States Food and Drug Administration. Facts about generic drugs.
  • American Pharmacists Association. 20 questions to talk over with patients.
  • Storing medicines safely.
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