Make Friends with Your Pharmacist
Who should you turn to for information about medications, allergy relief or to get help paying for prescriptions? Who helps you understand complicated dosing instructions on your multiple medicines? It pays to get acquainted with your neighborhood pharmacist, says Blanca R. Rivera, executive director of pharmacy services for the University of Miami Health System.
“Pharmacists do much more than fill prescriptions. On any given day, we might counsel an elderly patient on drug side effects or guide a busy mom to an over-the-counter remedy for her son’s poison ivy rash,” Rivera says.
The key is in the conversation
New prescription? Don’t just drop it off and pick it up at the drive-through window.
“Ask the pharmacist how to take the medication correctly and write down the instructions,” Rivera says. Yes, drug labels and package inserts contain these details, but it’s easy to misunderstand the fine print. Even common antibiotics can have unpleasant side effects, if not taken properly. To help your pharmacist help you, give them your accurate medication history. “It really helps us to know what prescription and over-the-counter meds you’re taking, including supplements. Some supplements interact with medications.” Tell the pharmacist about any drug allergies you might have, too.
If you don’t understand the pharmacist, “Please say so. Sometimes people hesitate to ask again, although they are still unsure or have additional questions.”
Rivera also says you should ask about financial assistance. “If a patient cannot afford a medication, there are a lot of programs that may help, such as manufacturer assistance or co-pay assistance programs.”
Want to skip the long lines?
Avoid early morning and closing time and “refill time” – which is the beginning of the month, especially January 1 and 2. “The beginning of January, when new insurances take effect, is usually very busy,” says Rivera. Some pharmacies just as packed at the end of the year, when people are using up their Health Savings Account dollars.
Adverse drugs events (ADEs) are the most common preventable medicine-related health issue, primarily because of widespread use of prescription and nonprescription drugs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). ADEs account for approximately 700,000 emergency room visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year.
Most problems occur because a patient is taking more medications than necessary. Elderly people tend to be on more medications, and are more susceptible to adverse reactions. Young children, especially when hospitalized, have a higher risk of adverse reactions because doctors change their medication doses, depending on their weight.
How can you avoid becoming a statistic?
“Read the label before leaving the pharmacy to make sure it is your medication (not someone else’s) and the medication you requested. Open the bottle and check that it looks the same as previous times. If it does not, ask the pharmacist why it looks different and to double check (for accuracy). Patients can also confirm accuracy via online pill identifying tools. These are available for free from some drug companies. All you have to do is to type in the imprint (markings) on the medication,” Rivera says.
Another item that bears repeating: If you have children or grandchildren around, request childproof bottles. Elderly relatives with vision or cognitive challenges may need your help, so review drug instructions with them, dispense the drug yourself, or hire a qualified caregiver.
Lastly, don’t jump pharmacies. The American Pharmacists Association advises that you to use the same pharmacy for all of your medications, especially if several doctors are writing prescriptions. A centralized medication history helps the pharmacist protect you from harmful drug interactions.
Your pharmacist: your OTC guru
Even without a walk-in clinic, pharmacists can direct you to over-the-counter remedies to relieve common problems ranging from seasonal allergies to upset stomach or sunburn. Some facilities also have blood pressure check devices and health-related literature. In some instances, a pharmacist can even advise you when to see a doctor.
Care as unique as you are
UHealth recently launched a specialty pharmacy for patients with complex medical conditions.
“We are dedicated to helping patients and providers manage chronic and complex diseases that require specialized therapies and customized pharmacy services. Our goal is to facilitate medication access for specialty medications and work as a financial advocate for our patients,” Rivera explains.
Next time you get a new prescription, take a few minutes to speak with your pharmacist. In the long run, you’ll build a partnership that protects your health, your time, and your finances.
Nancy Moreland is a regular contributor to UMiami Health News. She has written for several major health care systems and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Chicago Tribune.