When you think of the medical professionals in your life, you probably think of your primary care provider, possibly your physical therapist, and maybe even your psychiatrist.
But what about your pharmacist?
Pharmacists are highly trained experts who can provide crucial medical information. Their advice can help you get well — and possibly save your life.
Pharmacists usually put in eight years of undergraduate and graduate study to earn that Pharm.D degree. They know about how medications work, how to adjust doses, how to minimize side effects, and even how to modify lifestyle factors to minimize the medications you have to take.
And in many cases, your pharmacist may be a more convenient source of expert information than your doctor.
But instead of a trusted advisor you know on a first-name basis, your pharmacist may be a nameless person across the counter.
So what are some questions you can ask your pharmacist, both to get to know them better but also to get the most out of their extensive knowledge?
Considerable compiled a list of 5 great questions you should ask, both about your own medicine, and about them.
1. What does my medication do, and how will it work for me?
At the top of the list for a reason, this question gets right to the heart of what a pharmacist knows best.
Pharmacists are medication experts. They should be able to go beyond the prescription label and describe exactly what your particular medicine does; the dosage; when and how to take it; lookout signs that it’s working (or not working); and common side effects to be aware of.
Pharmacist Amber Cann told Considerable it’s not only what a pharmacist knows that’s important, but how they share it.
According to Cann, “Pharmacists are excellent communicators. They can take very complex health issues and explain them in ways patients can understand. They also collaborate with many people on your healthcare team — physicians, specialists, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, just to name a few.”
The American Pharmacists Association is the oldest society of pharmacists in the country. An APha spokesman urged people to schedule a meeting with your pharmacist to answer any questions more thoroughly.
He told Considerable, “Some questions can be answered quickly when a person walks up to the pharmacy, while other times it may be beneficial to schedule an appointment with your pharmacist to have a more in-depth medication review or detailed conversation about your health condition.
“In either scenario, people should feel comfortable asking their pharmacist anything about their medications and how those medications are impacting their health.”
2. Are there other drugs or supplements that I should avoid while taking this medication?
What separates a pharmacist from other medical pros is a deeper understanding of what each drug does and how it interacts with other drugs, herbs, and supplements.
According to AARP, a large percentage of older Americans use supplements on a daily basis to make up for perceived vitamin deficiencies, and these supplements can potentially interact and interfere with how well your medication works.
Likewise, make sure you ask if there are any drug-nutrient deficiencies to be aware of while taking a medication. These occur when a drug interferes with the absorption of vitamins or minerals and may need to be monitored and in some cases supplemented.
Make sure your pharmacist is aware of all supplements or medications you are taking so they can offer the most informed advice possible.
3. Are there ways I can save money?
Pharmacists can often help you find cheaper over-the-counter medications that provide the best value for any symptoms you’re hoping to treat, whether it’s a generic equivalent or a therapeutic equivalent (medication that does the same job but uses less-expensive ingredients).
They can also consult with your doctor to switch prescription medication to a product that’s equally effective but less expensive.
Additionally, Cann said, “While pharmacists don’t set the co-payments of your medications, they may be able to save you money with discount cards, patient-assistance programs, and community groups that offer help to low-income families.”
The APhA spokesman added, “Pharmacists can also inform the patient of the cash price for a medication (which is sometimes lower than the required insurance copay) or in some cases, inform an individual if there are prescription medication assistance programs available to cover all or part of the cost of the medication.
“Some pharmacists also offer a service to Medicare-eligible Americans to assist them in selecting a Medicare Part D plan that will maximize coverage for their specific medications and circumstances.”
In short, your pharmacist may be able to help you cut some costs by finding affordable alternatives and cheaper options.
4. How can I best prepare for surprise situations?
Often the trickiest situations are the ones we’re not prepared for, so ask your pharmacist to help you be ready. Make sure you understand the best next steps when you:
Miss a dose of your medicine. Should you double-up the next dose, take the regular dose, or something else?
Are preparing to travel. Make sure you know what to do if your medicine is lost, runs out, or is stolen in a foreign country.
Dr. Cann offered this travel tip: “When you travel, always carry your medications in the original pharmacy bottle. That way, if you need a refill far from home, the local pharmacist has all the information she needs to call your home pharmacy.”
Are due for vaccines or other immunizations.
Have trouble swallowing pills. Pharmacists can identify other formulations or patches.
These are just a few examples, but in general it helps to be prepared to be unprepared. Your pharmacist can help you resolve any surprises.
5. Tell me about yourself!
No relationship is complete when only one person knows the other, so get to know a bit about your pharmacist. Ask them how long they have been a pharmacist, about their experience, and if they have any specific areas of expertise. (For example, they could be board certified in a field that’s relevant to you or your loved ones, such as geriatrics.)
If you’re feeling extra curious you could also ask your pharmacist what they do to keep up on the most recent drug studies and related industry information, to get a sense of how current their knowledge base is.
And it probably won’t hurt to ask some lighter stuff too, like if they have kids, or where they are from.
Your pharmacist knows a lot about you, so taking some time to get to know them can help you build more trust.
Bottom line: Dispense with the attitude that the pharmacist isn’t your doctor, and embrace them as another valuable member of your health team.