Why It’s Worth Asking A Pharmacist For Medical Advice

Don't be afraid to ask your pharmacist questions about prescription medications! In some cases, pharmacists can especially come in handy if a patient doesn’t have access to a doctor, or doesn't have health insurance.

When your pharmacist hands you your prescription medication, he or she is likely to ask you, “Do you have any questions?” This is an open invitation to tap into a vast store of knowledge! And it’s an offer you should always accept. A few minutes with your pharmacist may spare you some serious health consequences.

Prescription medications can be very harmful, if not lethal when taken incorrectly. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Medicine is meant to heal, and pharmacists across the country are trained to help patients who may have questions or need advice.

If you’re having problems, your pharmacist can offer advice or, if necessary, advise you to see your GP.

How a pharmacist can help you

“Pharmacists a lot of times are on the front lines. We can do a medical assessment and get an idea, from signs and symptoms, to point people in the right direction,” says Jenny Alfonso, PharmD.

If you fall in the category of not having proper access to health care like many Hispanics, the pharmacist-in-charge at SMP pharmacy in Miami suggests going to a retail pharmacy that has a small clinic with a nurse practitioner on hand.

“These can help if it’s something that can be treated such as an ear infection or influenza. This is what I call a superficial diagnosis that can be the cause of the symptoms the patient is feeling,” says Alfonso.

She points out that if further treatment is needed, or the condition doesn’t get resolved, it’s important to seek a doctor.

With or without health care, know your pharmacist

They are some of our nation’s most accessible health care professionals with approximately 275 million patient visits to a pharmacy each week, according to the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.

Pharmacists can tell you how and when to take your medicine, whether a drug may interact with another medicine you are taking, and any side effects you might have. Also, when it comes to the people behind our neighborhood drug store counters, you will also find pharmacy technicians who are under the supervision of pharmacists. Be sure you know which one you are talking to.

It’s also best to have all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so your records are in one place. Doing this can help them keep track of all your medications, and be able to properly warn you if a new drug might cause problems.

If you have a language barrier, try to find a trusted person who can go to the pharmacy with you.

“It’s important to have someone there to advocate for you with a prepared list of questions. Most important should be the main side effects, correct dosing – with or without food – and interactions with other medications including supplements,” says integrative medicine expert Joseph Mosquera, MD.

Many pharmacies have private counseling areas where you talk without interruption. Some pharmacists also accept questions over the phone.

The numbers: prescription medicine in the U.S.

Prescription drug use has increased steadily over the past decade with about 80% of all medical treatments involving the use of medications, reports the National Center for Health Statistics.

A large portion of people who take prescription medicine, about 91%, suffer from chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   

Pharmacists are important not only because they can help patients understand how to properly take their medicine, but by doing so, they also help the U.S. health care system financially. Even with their guidance and assistance, our health care system loses up to $289 billion dollars in medication-related problems each year. Largely due to patients not taking their medication correctly and, in some cases, not refilling their prescriptions at all.

Does this apply to over-the-counter medications?

Even though they aren’t prescribed by doctors, it’s also important to take over-the-counter (OTC) medication correctly, especially when it comes to kids.  

“We understand that it’s hard for parents to know how much medication to give children,” says Alfonzo.

Don’t be afraid to talk to pharmacists about OTC medications too.  Pharmacists can be a helpful resource by answering questions or concerns you may have for both prescription and non-prescription medicine.

Here are a few important tips you should also know when taking OTCs, according to the National Institutes of Health:

  • Measure the dose of a liquid OTC medicine as carefully as you would a prescription drug. Use a measuring spoon.
  • Remember, OTC medicine can have side effects.
  • Take the amount suggested on the label. If you don’t get better, see your doctor.
  • Be sure to read the label. Even if you’ve used the OTC product in the past. Important information can change.
  • Remember, prescription or over-the-counter medicines can be harmful if they aren’t used correctly.

Always consult your doctor before taking any medication, and especially when it comes to administering it to your children.

Choosing the right pharmacist

Many people simply don’t know how helpful a pharmacist can be. Choosing the right pharmacy is important.

Talking to your doctor is a helpful way to select a pharmacist in your area who is knowledgeable. And remember, take medicine only as directed. And don’t share it or give to anyone else.