Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2010
Written by 

Beyond the pill bottle: What do pharmacists do?

Pharmacists and pharmacies do a lot more than just fill prescriptions. What else can they help with?

Great question! Glad you asked.

First though, let’s start with filling prescriptions, since there is a lot more going on than just taking tablets from the large shelf bottle and putting them in a smaller customized bottle. This may not always be apparent.

Payment

Before filling your prescription, the pharmacy wants to let you know how much it will cost. If you have insurance, the pharmacy contacts them to determine what your copay will be. Sometimes this requires extra paperwork from your doctor, called a prior authorization, in which case the pharmacy sends the appropriate paperwork to your doctor. Sometimes there may be promotions available for the medication you are taking that can lower your cost. Other times there may be certain criteria that qualify you for coverage of medications and services.

This all may take some time to do, but we want you to get the medications you need at prices you can afford.

Filling

Once cost is determined the prescription is transcribed onto a label and filled accordingly. The pharmacist then checks the prescription. Here is where a lot of mental energy is put in on your behalf. These checks are the core of our job wherever we work.

As pharmacists we verify:

  • It is the correct drug
  • It is for the correct person
  • Your allergies: to prevent harmful reactions
  • If the medication is right for you, given the condition it is intending to treat
  • The medication will be safe and effective for you
  • There are no interactions with other medications you are taking
  • If there are challenges you face in taking your medications regularly

Dispensing and counseling

Once we make sure everything looks like it should, we then want to counsel you on what we found while checking your prescription. Usually this is as easy as showing you your medication, since you know it best, and asking a question or two about it; however, if a question came up while we were checking your prescription we would take time to verify your medication is working as intended. Similarly, if it is a new medication we will take time to teach the important points in taking the medication correctly, to mention what to watch out for, and to address your concerns.

Vaccinations

Since vaccinations are so important and making it easier for you to get vaccinated increases your ability to get vaccinated, pharmacists have stepped up to this role. Many of us are trained to give you the vaccinations you need. The types of vaccinations offered vary from pharmacy to pharmacy, so please call to ask what is available.

Complete medication reviews (medication check-ups)

Since you being empowered over your medications and conditions makes you healthier, saves you money and prevents adverse events, a number of insurance companies offer to pay a pharmacist for his or her time to go over your medications and conditions with you. These visits are longer than a medication counsel, typically between 30 and 60 minutes. In these sessions you bring all your prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements, and health devices and the pharmacist goes through each one with you.

These sessions offer tremendous benefit to you since they help you review what you are taking, why you are taking it, how your doctor wants you to take it and what effects you should be seeing from it. Also, they allow the pharmacist to identify what unintended effects you may be seeing, what drug-drug interactions you may be experiencing, what challenges you are facing in taking the medication, what drugs you may not need to be taking and what drugs you may benefit by taking. Finally, they give you talking points so you and your doctor can discuss the most important issues the next time you meet.

Hospital pharmacy

As medication therapies become more complex and require continual monitoring and adjustments, pharmacists have become part of the medical teams that care for you while you are at the hospital. Many of us have specialized our knowledge and skills to be valuable resources to your doctors. Depending upon how the hospital is structured we may be rounding with your doctors, providing our drug knowledge so they can better care for you. We may be right beside you in the Emergency Department, helping provide the immediate care you need. We may be out of view, but we are definitely obtaining, checking and monitoring the medications you are receiving. We may be refining how the hospital delivers you your medications so they are delivered quickly and accurately. We may be someone you see at your discharge, helping you understand your medication changes and aiding your transition home.

Therapy management

Pharmacists also assist in community clinics, where we aid you in taking control of the long-term diseases that challenge you in your life. Again, many of us have specialized our knowledge and skills to aid in your care. High blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, asthma, heart failure, and bleeding and blood-clotting disorders are some of the chronic conditions pharmacists can assist you and your doctor with in minimizing their effects on your life.

Compounding

Do you need a specific drug that is not manufactured? Pharmacists have always and continue to make medications specifically tailored to your needs. These may be specific drugs used to help your doctors diagnose your condition, drugs that need to be prepared the day of your diagnostic. They may be antibiotics that need to be compounded at a quantity specific for you. They may be nutrients made specifically for what your body needs. Or they may be simple but practical compounds such as mixing your skin medication into a cream you know works best for you, or making it taste good for your child.

Whatever the specific need, we are there to make it for you.

Drug development

The more drug options we have in treating diseases, the better your doctor is able to help you. Pharmacists are very much involved in helping develop new medications and making sure those medications are safe and effective.

Research

The reason your doctors are able to determine what treatment is best for you is by their knowledge acquired through studies and trials. Pharmacists also are integrated into this process, as they monitor the drugs being studied. The pharmacist may also be the one who posed the question for the study or compiled other studies together to determine what the combined information says. More knowledge helps make better decisions when choosing what therapy is right for you.

Advocacy and education

Part of a pharmacist’s job is, in a small way, working ourselves out of a job. We want you to know and have control over your medications and conditions; thus, we teach you the important points, easy ways to act on them and how you can know your medications are working.

But another aspect to this is, like this article, we need to let you and others know all the things we are capable of doing. Our goal is the same as your doctor’s: your care. Wherever drugs play a part of your care, we will be right there providing our knowledge, skills and support.

Resources to learn more

For a more humorous (yet, true) take on what pharmacists do, visit http://whatpharmacistsdo.org.

Some pharmacy associations to check out:

For a list of immunization schedules, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules.


References: “Patient Care Services: What Pharmacists Do.” Michael Posey. American Pharmacists Association.www.pharmacist.com/patient-care-services-what-pharmacists-do. March 1, 2014.

“Behind the Window: What Pharmacists Do.” US News Health. http://bit.ly/1xs76f4. June 18, 2014.

“Top 9 Pharmacist Responsibilities.” Edward Lamb. About.com. http://abt.cm/1HVGnxJ.

Brian Barkow

Brian Barkow is a doctor of pharmacy at Streu’s Pharmacy Bay Natural in Green Bay. Streu’s is located at 635 Main Street in Green Bay. Learn more about the pharmacy and their retail store at www.streuspharmacybaynatural.com.

Website: www.streuspharmacybaynatural.com
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