Should you listen to your pharmacist? Role of pharmacists explained

The two most popular health professionals people know are doctors and nurses. Not much is known about professions like pharmacy, radiography and physiotherapy. What is the role of a pharmacist?

Pharmacists dispensing medicine to patients

Pharmacy is a medical field that involves the art of preparing, compounding, preserving, and dispensing drugs. Pharmacy links medical science (or biology) with chemistry. 

Why must you listen to what your pharmacist says?

You should listen to your pharmacist because they are in a better position to advise you on how to use your medications, the side effects of medicines, and the correct dose of a drug to take. 

In order to understand what to expect of your pharmacist, it is necessary to understand the meaning of the word, "pharmacist". What is a pharmacist?

Meaning of pharmacist

A pharmacist is a health professional who specializes in prescription medications and fills prescriptions issued by medical doctors. A pharmacist specializes in the preparation, effects, properties, and uses of medicines. 

Pharmacists serve patients by providing optimal medication management for chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, etc. 

It is important to learn more about the role of a pharmacist. This will help you know the right questions to ask your pharmacist and what to expect when you consult them.

Role of a pharmacist

We asked a pharmaceutical doctor about the role of pharmacists in the hospital and society. 

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“Beyond dispensing drugs issued by a doctor, a pharmacist is trained for so many other healthcare roles,” said Victoria Onyeje, (Pharm. D), a clinical pharmacist working with COOU Teaching Hospital, Awka. 

According to Dr Onyeje, some of the important roles of a pharmacist in the hospital and society include:

1. Pharmacovigilance

Pharmacovigilance involves monitoring medical drug effects after the drugs have been licensed for use. 

According to the World Health Organisation, pharmacovigilance is the science associated with the “detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse effects or any other medicine/vaccine-related problem”.

Almost all drugs have side effects. But, while some drug side effects are mild, others can be severe. There are also cases where such side effects may be unreported.

The role of pharmacists includes monitoring drugs for possible adverse effects. When pharmacists notice adverse drug effects that have not been reported, they document their observations and report their observations. 

2. Patient counseling

Part of the role of pharmacists is patient counseling. Usually, patients want to know how a medication works, how it will help their medical condition, and what to expect when taking it.

This is where a pharmacist comes in. While a doctor assesses a patient’s health condition, diagnoses, and issues drugs to patients, a pharmacist further provides patients with information about the drug’s direction of use. The information given can be in written or oral form.

Different studies have shown that many patients do not fully adhere to prescribed treatments. The role of pharmacists involves counseling patients to adhere to prescribed medications.

3. Medicine reconciliation and medication therapy management

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Medication errors are the most common patient safety error. Committee on Clinical Trial Registries reported that the average hospitalised patient is subject to at least one medication error in a day.

More than 40% of the medication errors result from inadequate reconciliations in handoffs when patients are admitted, transferred or discharged from a hospital. Many of such errors can be avoided if a room is made for medication reconciliation. 

Medication reconciliation involves creating a complete list of the current medications prescribed for a patient and comparing the list to the past drugs in the patient's medical record or medication orders.

Medication reconciliation aims to avoid medication errors such as duplication (dispensing a medicine twice simultaneously), omissions (mistakenly skipping a medication),  dosing errors and drug interactions (giving out two drugs that can interact with each other).

Pharmacists also offer medication therapy management (MTM). MTM, which is part of the role of pharmacists, aims to improve health outcomes by helping patients better understand their medical conditions and the medications used to manage them. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are five core elements of MTM- medication therapy review:

  • Medication-related action plan,
  • Personal medication record
  • Referral or intervention
  • Documentation
  • Follow-up. 

Under MTM, pharmacists offer a broad range of services such as identifying health conditions, educating people on their health conditions and health therapy, and advising patients on lifestyle behavior and modifications to adapt for better health outcomes. 

Other roles of pharmacists include: 

  • Advise other healthcare professionals about drug safety 
  • Supervise the production and preparation of medicines
  • Assess the quality of medications before they are supplied to patients
  • Supervise the drug supply chain and ensure the pharmacy premises and other structures are fit for use.

When you should you see a pharmacist

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When people get symptoms of a disease, they are often advised to “see a doctor right away”. But, do you have to see a doctor for all health problems? When should you see a pharmacist?

There are some health situations where you don’t necessarily need to see a doctor, e.g., a condition like an athlete’s foot should be easily recognized by a pharmacist. In a case like that, the pharmacist can explain the treatment options and can help you choose the treatment best for you. 

Even though there is no formal list of ailments you should see a pharmacist about, pharmacists also receive training to assess health conditions, prescribe medications or refer patients to another service provider. 

If you are experiencing a symptom and a pharmacist is the closest healthcare provider you can access at that point, it would help to go ahead and see the pharmacist. If the condition needs diagnosis by a medical doctor, the pharmacist will refer you to one. Also, if you are confused about any medication usage or its interactions, you should see a pharmacist.

According to a study of practices in Scotland published in BMJ, a clinical pharmacist based in a GP practice can help free five hours of a doctor’s time in a week, just by taking up prescription work. This will help reduce stress for general practitioners. 

References

  1. Bates, D W et al. (1997). The costs of adverse drug events in hospitalized patients. Adverse Drug Events Prevention Study Group. 
  2. Committee on Clinical Trial Registries, et al. (2006). Developing a National Registry of Pharmacologic and Biologic Clinical Trials: Workshop Report.
  3. O’Brien, M K et al. (1992). Adherence to medication regimens: updating a complex medical issue.
  4. Rozich, John D et al. (2004). Standardization as a mechanism to improve safety in health care.
  5. World Health Organisation. (n.d.). What is Pharmacovigilance?