15 things your community pharmacists wish you knew

Posted on August 5, 2013


  1. You’re not bothering us by asking questions about your medication: When we say “do you have any questions?” this is not a rhetoric question, we really mean it. No matter how busy we seem to be, most states require pharmacists to counsel patients and answer their questions (this includes Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications and herbals). According to a study, counseling at the initiation of drug therapy moderates the high risk of non-adherence and discontinuation, improves patient long-term clinical outcomes, and also lowers the rate of preventable side effects. We know more about drugs than anyone else, even your doctor, so we ask that you do utilize our knowledge as much as you can. Also don’t be embarrassed to ask our opinion, we’ve seen and heard it all; from the accidental condom break to the itchy groin. Trust me when I say, nothing is new under the pharmacists sun.
  2. We are trained to administer vaccines:  Currently, all 50 states allow pharmacists to administer vaccinations. Most of your community pharmacies now offer Influenza, varicella, pneumococcal disease, hepatitis, MMR, pertussis (whooping cough), shingles (herpes zoster) etc. vaccines. We undergo certificate training program that teach us the skills necessary to become a primary source for vaccine information, administration techniques and what to do in case of emergency. Getting your vaccines with us also beats the long wait times at the doctor’s office.
  3. You’re much safer when you use one pharmacy: According to an exclusive survey conducted by AccentHealth and DSN, a little more than one-third of patients use multiple pharmacies to fill their prescriptions. Doing this opens you up for possible harm from drug interactions and potential overdose. We are not mind-readers, so we don’t know what other medications may interact with the ones we are dispensing if we don’t know about them. This includes Over-The-Counter medications and natural/herbal products which can also interact with your medication. Sticking with one pharmacy is the safest.
  4. We don’t dictate the price of your medication: Your insurance company does, and we are only the middle man. Most times, we are just as frustrated as you are when your insurance doesn’t cover your medication.
  5. Giving us enough time to fill your multiple medications is in your best interest: There is a lot that goes into filling one medication, talk less of multiples. We have to scan every single prescription and conduct something know as a Drug Utilization Review (DUR) in order to identify problems such as therapeutic duplication, drug-disease contraindications, incorrect dosage or duration of treatment, drug allergy and clinical misuse or abuse. We appreciate as much time as we can get from you to make sure everything is right.
  6. We also appreciate when you call in your prescription refills a few days before you run out: It gives us ample time to fill your medications accurately, to contact your doctor if you are out of refills, to sort out any insurance issues, and also to place an order if we don’t have enough of the medication in stock.
  7. Sometimes we have to refer you to your doctor: Yes, technically we are doctors too, and most times even though we have a good idea of what your diagnosis might be, we do not have the power to diagnose just yet. At this time,only three states—New Mexico, Montana, and North Carolina—allow pharmacists to initiate drug therapy. So if you come in with an elevated sugar level, even though we may know what you have, we are unable to officially diagnose and write you a prescription.
  8. We cannot tell you what medications your husband is on: Neither can we tell you what drugs your child (over 18) is taking. Everyone who patronizes our pharmacy is covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) which protects your health information and ensures that we do not use or disclose your health information improperly or without your permission.
  9. The more courteous you are, the more likely we are to go the extra mile for you: We are offering you customer service therefore we usually have some wiggle room to go the extra mile for the customer. Also most of the time, your community pharmacists knows more about you than even your doctor – we know what you do, how much you can afford etc. So whether it’s by using a special discount coupon, calling your doctor to suggest a cheaper alternative or price-matching a competitor, we are more likely to help you if you are friendly and polite.
  10. We’re human, and we can make mistakes: Do check our work, and pay attention to your medications. Yes, it is our job to make sure the right prescription is given to the right patient with the right directions and at the right time. But sometimes mistakes happen and that’s where you come in. We encourage you to be familiar with the names, quantity, direction and physical appearance of your medication. When picking up your prescription, at the very least, ask, What is this drug? What does it do? Why am I taking it? What are the side effects? and how should I take it? If anything seems out of the ordinary, we would be glad to explain or address it.
  11. Sometimes the law wouldn’t let us fill your medication: It’s not because we hate you, but according to the DEA regulations, we are unable to fill certain controlled medications early. This includes a number of your sleep and pain medications. Therefore if your previous fill says your prescription should last 30 days, we cannot refill it earlier than 30 days.
  12. The chances of you pulling a fast one on us are very slim:  We’ve heard almost every story in the book – from you breaking your arm for the 10th time , to your dog swallowing your sleep medications, or you accidentally flushing your hydrocodone down the toilet. However, we carefully scrutinize every control medication, and most states even have drug monitoring programs that can detect if you are “doctor shopping” or “pharmacy hopping” for control medications.
  13. You may not need that medication: Truth be told, America might be an over-medicated country. According to Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Victor Montori, some “clinicians don’t trust patients to make effective lifestyle changes and as a result prescribe tablets”. However, in certain cases, simple lifestyle changes such as reduced fat  and low sugar diets, 30 minutes of daily exercise can work just as well or even better than medication. Therefore before accepting a prescription from a doctor, always ask if there are any non-prescription options and choose to commit to it. It is important for you to let your doctors know about your preference.
  14. Generics are just as good: With the exceptions of some thyroid medications, anti-convulsants and blood thinners most generics are just as good as brand medications. Generic drugs are simply replicas of brand-name drugs with the same exact dosage, use, effects, side effects and route of administration as the original drug, they may however look different from the brand name drug. The reason they are cheaper is because their manufacturers did not incur the expenses of developing and marketing the new drug.
  15. This is not a fast-food business: We realize that our drive-through may have you thinking otherwise. They are there for your convenience, not because we can churn out your prescription at the same speed as a Crispy McChicken. Telling your pharmacist “Aren’t you just counting a few pills and chucking it in the bottle” is guaranteed to get you a long deep sigh and maybe an eye-roll. This is your medication; we have to have enough time to fill it properly. Giving you a wrong medication (unlike the wrong sauce for your burger) could be a matter of life or death.