When you pick up your prescription, at a minimum, ask:
What is this drug? What does it do? Why am I taking it? What are
possible side effects? and How should I take it? Not only does this help
you to use the drug correctly; itâs also a good way to double-check
that youâre getting the right drug. Half the prescriptions taken in the U.S. each year are used improperly,
and 96 percent of patients nationwide donât ask questions about how to
use their medications.
And we make mistakesâabout two million a year. Ask if we use a bar-code system to help keep us from pulling the wrong drug off the shelf or giving the wrong strength of the right drug.
Your pharmacist has spent more time studying drugs than even your doctor has.
Go ahead and call me doctor; Iâm just not that kind of doctor. Since mid-2004, pharmacy students
must pursue a doctorate in pharmacy (Pharm.D) in order to be licensed.
Pharmacists licensed before then must have at least a Bachelor of
Pharmacy and pass a series of exams.
All pharmacists are not created equal.
A less-qualified pharmacy technician may have actually filled your prescription. Currently, there is no national standard for their training and responsibilities.
People assume that if itâs over-the-counter, itâs safe.
According to Daniel
Zlott, a pharmacist at the National Institutes of Health, this may not always be the case for you. âIâve seen
serious complicationsâ with over-the-counter meds, he says.
An over-the-counter version of your medication might do the trick.
You may just need to take more pills and forgo insurance reimbursement. But always talk to your pharmacist, and do the math.
We'll save you money if we can.
âA good part of a pharmacistâs time is spent dealing with patients and
their incomes,â says pharmacist Cindy Coffey. Part of that is suggesting
generic or OTC alternatives. Or if a doctor has prescribed a newer drug
with no generic alternative available, says Zlott, âI might call the
doctor to suggest an older drug thatâs equally effective.â
Iâd think twice about using a drive-through pharmacy.
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Working there distracts usânot a good thing when it comes to pharmaceuticals.
The more I know you, the more I can help you.
âThe better I know you as a patientâyour health history, your family,
and how busy your life isâthe better I can tailor medications to fit
your lifestyle,â says Zlott. âYou may not want to take a drug three
times a day, for example, and Iâll know that if I know you.â
Generics are a close match for most brand names.
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But Iâd be careful with blood thinners and thyroid drugs, since small differences can have big effects.
Don't try to get anything past us.
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Prescriptions for painkillers or sleeping aids always get extra scrutiny.
When in doubt, ask.
I can give you a generic refill thatâs different from the one you started with. Online resources like cvs.com let you double-check your pill.
Use one pharmacy if you can.
Thereâs not some big computer database that tracks your drugs and flags interactions for pharmacists everywhere. If you start using a new pharmacy, make sure we know what youâre taking.
Here's how to avoid lines:
It gets busy Monday and Tuesday evenings, since many new prescriptions and refills come in after the weekend.
Look into the $4 generics.
Chains like Target, Kroger, and Wal-Mart offer them. And it canât hurt to ask your pharmacy if it will match the price.
Yelling at me won't help.
If I canât reach your doctor and/or insurance company to approve a refill, thereâs nothing I can do about it. âItâs frustrating,â says Zlott, âbut Iâd be breaking the law in some states if I gave it to you.â
Pharmacists are required by law in most states to counsel patients and answer their questions.
If your pharmacist seems too busy to do talk
with you, take your business someplace else.
Pharmacists are filling more prescriptions than ever.
âSome pharmacies are so volume-driven that the pharmacist canât look up
all day,â says Coffey. There were a record 3.8 billion
prescriptions filled in the U.S. in 2007âa 13 percent increase from
Sometimes we can't read the doctor's handwriting either.
E-prescribing can help, but as of 2006, fewer than 20 percent of prescriptions were being electronically transmitted.
I hate your insurance company as much as you do.
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âEven if somethingâs working for you, the insurance company may insist you switch to something else,â says pharmacy owner Stuart Feldman. âIâm stuck in the middle trying to explain this to customers.â
We can give flu shots in most states.
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People take too many drugs.
Two out of every three patients who visit a doctor leave with at least
one prescription for medication, according to the Institute for Safe
Medication Practices. âDrugs are an easy solution,â says Feldman, âbut there are other solutions.â
Sources: Dr. Daniel Zlott, oncology pharmacist, National Institutes of Health; Cindy Coffey, PharmD; Greg Collins, pharmacy supervisor, CVS/pharmacy, California; Stuart Feldman, owner, Cross River Pharmacy, New York