6 Things Your Pharmacist Wants You to Know

They don’t just count pills.
Black adult female pharmacist with prescription and patient

Did you know your pharmacist can describe the chemistry of every medication imaginable – from statins to sleep aids to serotonin?

They can also tell you which over-the-counter drugs to steer clear of and why mixing antacids and antibiotics can spell trouble.

Your pharmacist is a drug expert. Their job is not only to fill prescriptions and refills – but to help you navigate prescription and the over-the-counter drug aisle.

1. Pharmacists Are Trained Medical Professionals 

Pharmacists know how various drugs interact with your body and other medications. To work in this profession, pharmacists must graduate from college and then earn a four-year, post-graduate Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

“A pharmacist isn't just dispensing medication. They're reviewing the prescribed medication while looking at the rest of your medications and health history,” says Lauren Bode, a clinical pharmacy specialist at University of Vermont Medical Center. “Pharmacists are medication specialists in a same way that a cardiologist is a heart specialist.”

2. Filling Prescriptions Takes Time

When a prescription is ordered, it goes through your primary care provider’s office to the pharmacy. Quick and easy, right? Not exactly.

“A lot needs to go right to get your medication ready. Every little detail must be correct on that prescription. The right patient with the right date of birth, address and insurance,” Bode says. “People move or they change insurances. Sometimes the dose or quantity that the provider prescribes is not available or doesn't exist.”

If you’re being prescribed a controlled substance, the process can be especially time-consuming and less flexible.

Controlled substances include opioids, stimulants and benzodiazepines that have the potential for abuse. Federal laws prohibit patients from transferring prescriptions between pharmacies, picking up medication early or verbally requesting changes. 

“While this is not the majority of people, there is going to be a segment of people who are misusing these medications or may be seeking them with the intent of selling them,” Bode says. 

Meanwhile, Bode points out that the United States is seeing a record number of drug shortages, making some prescription drugs – like weight-loss medications -- challenging or impossible to fill. 

But even with shortages, pharmacists in our region are filling hundreds of prescriptions daily.

“All those prescriptions have to be counted, labeled and processed,” says Paweł Lasoch, a clinical pharmacy specialist at UVM Medical Center. “The prescriptions keep coming to the pharmacy all the time. It’s unlimited. At night, during the day and in different time zones.”

3. Pharmacists Can Help You Avoid Dangerous Decisions 

Will cough syrup ease your symptoms without making you groggy? Can herbal remedies interfere with your blood pressure medication? Do you need to take food with your heartburn pills?

Forget wandering the drugstore aisle in frustration – walk up to the pharmacy counter and ask for help.

“The over-the-counter drug aisles at the pharmacy can be very confusing,” Bode says. “I always encourage talking to the pharmacist for help finding the most effective and appropriate product.”

Pharmacists can answer your questions about all medications, whether related to prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

“A common misperception of over-the-counter medications is that they are safe for everyone or even most people, and that is absolutely not the case,” Bode explains. “Depending on a person's age, medical history or prescription medications, there may be entire sections of the over-the-counter shelves that could potentially be harmful.”

4. Pharmacists Don't Set Drug Prices 

Pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers (hired by insurers) determine drug prices. In the United States, drug prices are often negotiated behind closed doors—and physicians, patients and pharmacists are not included in the conversation. 

“Pharmacists are incredibly frustrated by the often-high costs that patients are asked to take on as a part of their prescription medications,” Bode says. 

One cost-saving tip: Ask your pharmacist for generic medications when possible. If your primary care provider does not specify that a brand-name drug is required, a less expensive generic medication will be dispensed by your pharmacist.

But that might not always work in your favor. Be aware that sometimes doctors don’t prescribe generic drugs because of supply chain issues or because generic versions of certain drugs may not be readily available.

Need help paying for your medication? 

UVM Health Network’s Health Assistance Program may be able to help you get prescription medications at no cost, even if you have insurance. The program also provides access to eyeglasses and medical equipment and can help you connect with other health-related resources.

5. Be Your Own Advocate

Your pharmacist can tell you everything about a medication, from its side effects and health benefits to proper dosage and refill requirements. 

“My biggest advice is for people to be proactive,” says Lasoch. “Remember to be your own advocate and ask questions.”

Bode agrees.

“It’s up to the patient whether they want to talk to their provider or the pharmacist about their medication,” Bode says. “Getting input from your pharmacist doesn’t mean you’re going around your health care provider. Health care is a team sport, and it's good to have a lot of different perspectives on your team.”

If you have questions about your medication, ask to speak with the pharmacist on duty.

6. Plan Ahead for Your Prescriptions, Always

As much as your pharmacist knows about medications, staying on top of your medications is essential. Pay attention to the number of refills you have left and plan ahead if you're going on vacation or away for a long weekend.

“Managing your medication and planning can make all the difference,” Bode says.

Try Our Free Mail Order Pharmacy

If you don’t want to worry about remembering when to reorder or pick up your prescription, consider signing up for UVM Health Network’s Mail Order Pharmacy – a free service that delivers your medication, on time and right to your mailbox. Our local pharmacists will help you track your medication refills and renewals, synchronize your prescription deliveries and manage your prescription transfers.

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