By: Justin Ceravolo, PharmD, assistant pharmacy manager for Cypress Pharmacy
During the pandemic, health care officials have reported that fewer people are going to the doctor out of concern about contracting COVID-19. Johns Hopkins Community Physicians initially reported a decline in patients by 20 to 30% at the start of the pandemic.
But doctors caution that waiting too long to get help or manage chronic conditions may be more dangerous in the long-term than the coronavirus. Life threatening symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, sudden numbness, weakness or confusion should result in a call to 911.
For minor health issues, an often-overlooked source is your pharmacist. Pharmacists are qualified health care professionals who can offer health and well-being guidance and over-the-counter medications for a range of minor illnesses.
As an essential business open throughout the pandemic, pharmacies have followed strict sanitation and social distancing guidelines designed to protect staff and customers, with many offering curbside pickup and delivery.
In addition to being able to talk to your pharmacist for free, here are 10 other ways your pharmacist can help you:
- They are qualified health care professionals. Pharmacists must pass state and national licensing exams and spend six to eight years in pharmacy school learning about medicinal chemistry, pathophysiology and pharmacotherapy. Pharmacy has a rigorous system of checks and balances and is one of the most regulated professions.
- They are an important component of medical care. While pharmacists typically can’t diagnose illnesses or prescribe medication, they are frequently readily available without an appointment. The pharmacist’s role isn’t to keep you from seeing your doctor, but can make you more aware of your symptoms and when to seek the appropriate help. Pharmacists are also trained at identifying types of muscle aches, headaches, coughs, rashes, stomach issues and colds and the flu and know which over-the-counter medicines can help as well as what conditions require a doctor’s attention.
- They are experts in how medications interact with other drugs and conditions (pharmacodynamics), helping to keep you safe when you are taking multiple medications and supplements. Pharmacists can tell you the best, most effective time to take your medications and possible interactions with food and when inactive ingredients in some drugs may be a problem for people with allergies. They know how medications are absorbed and distributed in the body, metabolized and excreted.
- They can help you save money. Pharmacists can help you find over-the-counter medications that offer the best value for your symptoms. They also know whether there’s a generic equivalent or a therapeutic equivalent medicine that’s equally effective but less expensive.
- They can administer vaccines. Your pharmacist can bill your health insurance and provide flu shots and other vaccines, including influenza, hepatitis A and A/B, HPV, Measles, mumps and rubella, meningitis, pneumonia, shingles, tetanus and whooping cough.
- They can offer basic medical tests. Flu and strep tests are available, and if positive, your pharmacist will contact your physician for a prescription. You can get a combined cholesterol and glucose finger stick test with accurate, on-site results in minutes. You can test your blood pressure. You can use a service to order many tests such as diabetes, basic biomarkers and hormone levels to be sent to a nearby lab. Your pharmacist can also help you interpret the results.
- They can help manage diabetes. In addition to helping find supplies that work best, pharmacists can prevent serious errors by helping you administer insulin, understand its effects and determine when you should and shouldn’t use it. Pharmacists can teach you how to inject insulin and other drugs.
- They can provide creative ways to take medicine. Are you not a fan of how your medicine tastes? Pharmacists can enhance the taste of medication, while ensuring that the flavor is compatible with the medication’s properties. A compounding pharmacy may be able to compound multiple prescriptions into one dose. They can also prepare another way to deliver medicine, such as topical gels, creams, suppositories or sublingual troches. For example, if a patient has difficulty swallowing, a compounding pharmacist may prepare the drug as a flavored liquid suspension.
- They can provide lifestyle and well-being advice, as well as medication and insurance education. Pharmacists can provide advice on how to eat healthily and lose weight. They can help with smoking cessation. Some pharmacies have functional medicine counseling, helping to keep people from getting sick in the first place in order to promote optimal health. While pharmacists can help in person, online resources are also available. Pharmacists can help provide pill identification when drugs are separated from packaging, drug disposal and even compare Medicare plans to narrow plan options based on current prescriptions.
- They can help take care of your pets. Compounding pharmacies can compound pet medications, as well as offer over-the-counter treatment and prescriptions.
The next time you pick up a prescription and are tempted to decline counseling, think about all the things you can talk to your pharmacist about. They are available to help in your journey to wellness and health in partnership with doctors, and are a vital part of the health system.