Pharmacists play a vital role in the healthcare model. We provide several vital services to patients that aren’t readily found anywhere else or are delegated strictly to pharmacists. All of our roles however all focus on one main goal and that is as I’ve said before, keeping patients safe.
The first is the most obvious role. Pharmacists are legal drug dealers.
We fill the prescriptions that the medical providers write. Without a pharmacist on duty in the US you aren’t getting your prescription. People always ask why. Why can’t a provider fill their medications as well? The answer ties into a pharmacists next several roles but the easiest answer is the provider isn’t trained to. They diagnose and write prescriptions and we fill them.
We are information brokers. Pharmacists are a resource for providers and patients alike. We provide information on drugs, over the counter medications, the law and a variety of other topics that our patients think we know the answer to. (If you would like to read about this topic click here.)
All pharmacist after 2006 hold a doctorate in pharmacy, which means they have a minimum of 6 years of college focusing on medications, specifically how they work in the body, how they interact with one another, what reactions and side effects a person can have, how the body eliminates them, what drugs are available and many other topics related to their use and application. Providers are trained on what and how the medications are used and a brief overview of side effects and interactions.
Pharmacists are the safety officers. When a prescription comes to the pharmacy our job is to check the prescription to be sure the medication is safe for you as an individual patient to use. That means we look at your allergies, medical conditions, and other medications. We also check to see if the provider wrote the prescription in a manor that made sense. Did they write enough pills? Did they prescribe a medication once daily that should be given twice daily to work correctly? After the technician fills a prescription the medication is checked again for accuracy. We want to make sure you received exactly what the provider prescribed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard all you have to do is put a label on a box. If that’s all I did though a patient could end up with the wrong box. Think about it. If we as pharmacists and techs never looked at a box or checked a prescription we could randomly reach on the shelf and give a man birth control. It’s in a box. We put a label on it. But it’s not right and for most men it’s not safe.
Pharmacists are the bad guys. Unfortunately there are times that pharmacists have to deny filling a prescription. Sometimes it’s because the insurance company has denied paying for it, or the provider won’t refill it, or there is a drug interaction. There are other times though that are less pleasant. The DEA has placed a heavy burden of making pharmacists the enforcers of control laws. We are now the gatekeepers of potentially addictive medications. It isn’t a role we asked for and it can lead to quite a bit of confrontation. However the DEA monitors our employers and even us very closely and harsh fines and penalties are often handed out to offenders. Please have a little patience if you ever hear no from your friendly neighborhood pharmacist.
One of the last major things pharmacists do is serve as a link between you, the patient, and the provider and or insurance company. The pharmacist and their staff spend most of their day on the phone. I’m sure they all have the pain in their neck to prove it. I’m also sure that you’ve stepped up to the pharmacy counter more than once to a pharmacy staff member with their ear glued to the phone, or had an office on speaker phone listening to hold music while doing another task. We call for refills, questions, changes in medications, overrides, prior authorizations, diagnoses, and a variety of other things I can’t think of at the moment.
So the next time you see your friendly neighborhood pharmacist remember the pharmacist is your safety officer. They are their to keep you safe not fill your prescription faster than a McDonalds drive thru. After all if McDonalds gives you the wrong hamburger no big deal. If a pharmacist gives you the wrong pills someone may have to call 911 for you.
Next time on your Friendly Neighborhood Pharmacist I will tell a few tales from behind the counter.