Pharmacists do a lot more than count pills and pack them into a bottle. “Think of us as air traffic controllers and customers as airplanes in flight,” says Heather Free, a practicing pharmacist in Washington, D.C., and a spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association. “We want to prevent collisions and have each and every plane land safely.”
The job goes beyond dispensing prescription drugs. Pharmacists monitor your medication records for possible drug interactions, side effects and duplications, any of which could put you at risk. They know what ailments you can treat yourself and when you should see a doctor. And they can save you a ton of time and money. All you have to do is ask.
1. Is this rash serious?
Pharmacists are able to help treat minor ailments, especially skin issues such as sunburn, bug bites, blisters, acne, nail fungus and, yes, that itchy, mysterious rash.
Free recalls a customer who asked for her advice on an anti-itch cream. “I looked at his arm and it wasn’t some minor skin irritation but a horrible case of poison ivy,” she says. “It turns out this gentleman had caught it from a friend. I showed him how to treat it with some over-the-counter products and, more important, how to prevent it from spreading to others. I even pulled up a picture of a leaf on my computer and showed it to him, so he would recognize it in the future.”
In a single day, Seattle pharmacist Beverly Schaefer, who co-owns Katterman’s Sand Point Pharmacy, might make a recommendation for dressing a poorly healing hand wound, counsel a mom with a child who has an earache and fit an ankle brace for a sprained ankle.
2. How can I save on my medications?
We all know that switching to generics saves money. But what about brand-name drugs for which there is no substitute? Pharmacists are wired in to a variety of free drug programs, drug company discount programs, even pharmaceutical manufacturers who will cover 100% of the cost if you qualify. They can point you to prescription savings plans, where you pay an annual fee and get discounts on certain drugs. Be sure to ask your pharmacist if the pharmacy is part of your insurance plan’s preferred network. Doing so can save you hundreds of dollars each year.
3. Can you make my medications user-friendly?
As Mary Poppins says, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Maybe large pills make you gag or that cough syrup tastes nasty. Pharmacists can often find an alternative “delivery” method – a pill instead of liquid or vice versa — so you keep taking your medications. They also have access to flavorings that can be added to many liquids. Free counsels parents to have their children suck on an ice cube to numb the taste buds before sipping an unflavored liquid medicine. (It works for grown-ups, too.)
4. I don’t understand Medicare Part D. Help!
Understanding any insurance plan is tough, and it’s even more difficult with Medicare Part D. Pharmacists can not only walk you through the Medicare website and compare Medicare Part D plans, but review your current medications, compare co-pays and other costs against your current plan and help you narrow down your Part D choices based on cost and prescription coverage. For example, Walgreens pharmacists help educate Medicare beneficiaries about how to get the most from their health care plan and ways to save as much as 75% on prescription drug costs.
“Some clients who can’t come into the pharmacy call me for help,” says Free. “I look up their prescriptions, print out a list of plans, mail them the list and then we discuss the options over the phone.”
5. Is there a way to sort out all my medications?
Pharmacists are happy to offer free “brown bag” checkups. Set an appointment and bring in all your prescription drugs, supplements and over-the-counter medicines (presumably in a “brown bag,” get it?). “During a medication management consultation, we discuss what you are taking, proper medication use, any possible interactions and less expensive options,” Schaefer explains.
6. Do you administer more than flu shots?
More than 100,000 pharmacists have completed training to provide immunizations and are now allowed to do so in all 50 states (though range of immunizations varies by state), according to the National Community Pharmacists Association. That means no doctor’s office, short wait times and knowing immediately about your coverage for immunizations for Hepatitis A, TDaP (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis), shingles, pneumonia and more. Heather Free also performs onsite HIV and Hepatitis C testing, then connects customers to care if the tests are positive. Many pharmacies also offer cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure screenings, free of charge.
7. I’m going on vacation for six weeks. How do I get my prescription renewed before I leave?
Ever heard of a vacation override? We hadn’t. But a pharmacist can intervene on your behalf with your insurance company to ensure you have a full supply of all your medication while on holiday. The same holds true if your meds are lost or stolen.