Getting to know your independent pharmacist: How community pharmacists work behind the scenes to keep you safe

What a hassle! You wait for what seems like forever at the doctor’s office, only to have to wait again to pick up a prescription at your local pharmacy. While stopping at the pharmacy might seem like just another chore, there are countless ways that pharmacists keep you safe and even save you money. Picking the right pharmacist can be almost as important for your health as knowing how to choose the right doctor.

While most people agonize over choosing a primary care provider, few people give much thought to choosing a pharmacist. However, a good pharmacist is your last defense in ensuring that you receive the right medication, the right way, and at the right time. A busy doctor might not be aware of all of the different medications you are taking, especially if you visit more than one physician. However, a good pharmacist will have a list of every prescription you’ve ever filled with them and can flag potentially harmful interactions between new prescriptions and drugs you are already taking. That record of current and past medications is just one of the reasons why it is important to develop a relationship with a pharmacist you can trust and stick with them.

Pharmacists keep you safe

Pharmacists do far more than just dispense medications. For every prescription that a pharmacy receives, a pharmacist:

  • Checks whether the medication is safe to take with other drugs the patient is already taking;
  • Checks whether the prescribed dosage makes sense;
  • Ensures that they have the correct medication in stock and that it is not close to the expiration date;
  • Ensures that the patient knows how to take the medication correctly.

A pharmacist may also mix two or more types of medication together or prepare your medication in some other way that makes it easier to take. This is called compounding, and requires close attention to detail to ensure that the final medication contains the right dosage and is safe to take.

There’s plenty that can go wrong between the time your doctor writes your prescription and your pharmacist fills it. A 2003 study of 50 pharmacies in the United States

found that 1.7% of the filled prescriptions contained errors. A review of a number of similar studies by Cheung et. al. found that dispensing errors, e.g., when pharmacists make mistakes, occurred anywhere from almost never to as frequently as 45 out of every 100 prescriptions filled. They found that the highest number of mistakes occurred in busy environments where the pharmacy was short-staffed and the pharmacists were tired.

That’s why choosing a local pharmacist that you can trust is key to ensuring that you receive the best care possible. Independent pharmacists and neighborhood pharmacies are often better able to devote time to ensuring that your prescriptions are correct and that you are fully informed about when and how to take your medications.

Pharmacists provide valuable information

Do you sometimes have trouble remembering everything your doctor told you during your last visit? Trips to the doctor’s can feel rushed and overwhelming. It’s easy to forget things like how and when to take a new medication. While your primary physician may be busy, a quality pharmacist will always take the extra time to counsel patients on how to take medications, reinforce information already communicated by your primary care physician or a nurse, and provide new information, such as what to do if you experience negative side effects.

Not every ailment requires a trip to the doctor. Many everyday aches and pains, such as allergies, indigestion, nasal congestion, headaches and minor infections can be treated with medications that don’t require a prescription. In most cases, a knowledgeable pharmacist can help find the right over the counter medication for you and answer any questions you have about how and when to take it, possible side effects, and potential drug interactions. Your community pharmacist can also provide valuable information about vitamins or herbal remedies that you might be considering.

Are you having trouble taking your medications? A good independent pharmacist will take the time to help you come up with a solution, whether it be making your pills smaller, combining multiple medications into a single pill, or making it easier to access your medications with frustration-free packaging, such as pop-top bottles and reverse-cap vials.

A good pharmacist saves you money

Skipping a visit to the doctor for a minor concern that can be solved by a pharmacist will of course instantly save you money. However, there are many ways that a good pharmacist can reduce your overall medical costs.

Pharmacists can recommend generic alternatives to pricey prescriptions recommended by your doctors. A really good pharmacist might even go above and beyond by phoning your insurance to check on your coverage before dispensing a particular brand of drug, calling your doctor to discuss alternatives, or even checking in with other pharmacies or prescription savings plans to find you the best deal.

Independent pharmacies, like Balsam Pharmacy in Des Plaines, Illinois, also have the flexibility to offer personalized services that larger pharmacies might not offer, such as friendly service, free prescription management, and complimentary home delivery.

Remember to thank your pharmacist!

The next time picking up pills seems like a chore, you might want to stop and consider all of the things your pharmacist does behind the scenes to help keep you safe. If you have a great pharmacist who goes above and beyond for you and your family, be sure to let them know you appreciate what they do.

American Pharmacists Month, celebrated in October, is the perfect time to say thank you. Do you know of a great local pharmacy? Let others know how great they are this month by tagging them on social media with #AphM2019!

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