34 Secrets Your Pharmacist Isn’t Telling You

Learn how to save money, avoid mistakes, and get the most out of your visit to the drugstore.

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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; it’s also a good way to double-check that you’re getting the right drug. Half the prescriptions taken in the U.S. each year are used improperly, and 96 percent of patients nationwide don’t ask questions about how to use their medications.

We're human…

istock/Felipe Caparrós Cruz

And we make mistakes—about 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. (Find out the truth behind what happens when a doctor's mistake takes someone's life.)

Your pharmacist has spent more time studying drugs than even your doctor has

istock/Robert Kneschke

Go ahead and call me doctor; I’m 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 it’s over-the-counter, it’s safe


According to Daniel Zlott, a pharmacist at the National Institutes of Health, this may not always be the case for you. “I’ve seen serious complications” 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

istock/Steve Debenport

“A good part of a pharmacist’s time is spent dealing with patients and their incomes,” 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, “I might call the doctor to suggest an older drug that’s equally effective.” Here are 24 secrets pain doctors won't tell you.

I’d think twice about using a drive-through pharmacy

istock/Micah Youello Our drive-through window may be convenient, but most pharmacists don’t like them. An Ohio State study found that pharmacists believe the distractions associated with drive-through service contribute to delays, reduced efficiency and even dispensing errors. They also create the unrealistic expectation of fast-food-like service. So the next time you’re frustrated and stuck behind five cars, try to remember that getting the wrong prescription is much more dangerous than getting the wrong burger at McDonalds’s—and try to be patient.

The more I know you, the more I can help you


“The better I know you as a patient—your health history, your family, and how busy your life is—the better I can tailor medications to fit your lifestyle,” says Zlott. “You may not want to take a drug three times a day, for example, and I’ll know that if I know you.” (Here are the things you shouldn't do before a doctor's appointment,)

Generics are a close match for most brand names

istock/&#169 Paul Reid

But I’d be careful with blood thinners and thyroid drugs, since small differences can have big effects.

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