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Your Pharmacist: A Partner for Good Health

Your pharmacist is a great source of knowledge and support. Here’s how this health care professional can help you in more ways than you may realize.

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Pharmacists earned high marks for trustworthiness in a 2013 Gallup Poll, but you may feel shy approaching a busy drugstore counter with questions. What to do? “Your pharmacist may not have time during the rush on a Friday evening, for example. But don’t just leave. Ask when you can come back to talk for a few minutes,” says Jessica Merrey, PharmD, clinical pharmacy specialist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “There’s a stigma that pharmacists are always rushing around, but the truth is they get real satisfaction from helping customers stay healthy.”

Need a recommended vaccine or advice about an over-the-counter remedy? Wondering whether there’s an alternative to a high-priced drug—or how to remember to take your medications?

Just ask your pharmacist.

Once considered “pros” at one thing—dispensing prescriptions behind the drugstore counter—pharmacists today are emerging as key players on your health care team. “Hundreds of years ago, people went to the pharmacy or apothecary for medical care. By the 1900s, our role was mostly counting pills. But that’s changed,” says Jessica Merrey, PharmD, clinical pharmacy specialist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and certified geriatric pharmacist. “Pharmacy programs at universities today are doctoral programs, and the new material aspiring pharmacists learn includes helping people manage their health. We look at the whole person.”

Americans are embracing the change. In one 2012 nationwide poll, one in eight people said they had consulted their pharmacist for advice in the previous year. During the 2012–2013 flu season, 20 percent of adults got their influenza vaccine from a pharmacist, compared with 7 percent in 2006–2007.

Here are six ways your pharmacist can help you stay healthy.

Convenient vaccines. In all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, pharmacists can administer vaccines to adults. These include flu shots as well as vaccines for pneumonia, shingles (herpes zoster), tetanus, hepatitis A and B, human papillomavirus and even some vaccines needed for international travel.  “Often, you don’t even need an appointment,” Merrey notes.
 
Help with pill bottles and dispensers. If needed, ask your pharmacist to put your medications into easy-to-open containers (if there are no children in your home) with large-print labels. “Your pharmacist may also be able to fill your pill dispenser for you or package medications you take regularly into daily packs so you won’t miss a dose,” Merrey says.

Easier refills. If you take multiple medications, your pharmacist can help you get them on the same refill schedule so that you can make fewer trips to the drugstore, Merrey says.

Affordable alternatives. “Talk with your pharmacist right away if a medication costs too much,” Merrey says. He or she may be able to substitute a generic prescription or call your doctor to find another option.

Consultations for chronic health conditions. “While your doctor is the expert about your condition—diagnosing, developing a treatment plan and evaluating your health—your pharmacist is the medication expert who can sit down with you and discuss what your medicines do and how to take them for best results,” Merrey says. Call your insurance company to see if this is a covered benefit and who can provide it, she suggests. “Sometimes insurance companies have their own pharmacists who do this by phone. Some doctors’ offices offer pharmacy consultations as well.”

Advice about over-the-counter remedies and supplements. Thinking about a new herbal remedy or a vitamin or mineral supplement? In addition to speaking with your physician, ask your pharmacist if it could interact with medications you’re already taking. “It may be fine, or you may need a different dose or a different product, or you may be better off not taking it,” Merrey says. “You’ll have peace of mind.”
 

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