Pharmacists’ changing roles

I recently had a cream prescribed for my son’s rash. When I went to pick up the cream, the pharmacist spent time with me discussing how to apply it and what to expect – a little bit more chatting than I was used to, perhaps, but pretty par for the course.

A week later, however, the phone rang, and it was the pharmacist. I was sure that she was calling to let me know that the cream had been past its ‘best by’ date or something of the sort (even though the rash had cleared up). But no, she was calling to see how the rash had progressed and whether the cream had been successful. Welcome to the new pharmacist: not just the pill counter and cream mixer, but a full member of the health care team.

Pharmacy as a profession is expanding in new directions in order to meet rising health care needs in Canada. As medications – and their interactions – become more complex, the pharmacist’s role becomes even more key. Pharmacists are also being recognized for their considerable knowledge base and experience.

Currently, there is a movement beyond the traditional compounding and dispensing of medication towards a more professional advisory and primary health care role. Pharmacists can apply their knowledge and skill to become directly involved in the healing and education of patients. The phrase “ask your pharmacist” is becoming increasingly common – and with good reason. Pharmacists are an integral part of the community and serve as an important source of knowledge.

What can you expect?
Your pharmacist has always been the expert in the application and usage of drugs and other pharmaceuticals. He or she is continually refreshing his or her knowledge about the formulation, composition, storage, and dispensation of medications.

The pharmacist is also an expert in drug interactions and potential side effects of particular drugs. Although doctors are well versed in this as well, it is often the pharmacist who discovers drug interactions, sometimes because the doctor was not aware of all the medications a particular patient was taking. Pharmacists also can be the first line in inquiries about side effects – since they are sometimes more available than primary care physicians, a quick stop at the pharmacy can put a patient’s mind to rest, or conversely, discover a serious side effect before it becomes critical.

Pharmacists are also taking on new roles with respect to the education of the general public around health issues. One example that has become ubiquitous: the blood pressure machines that reside in many drugstores around the country. By giving one tool in detecting hypertension – called one of the silent killers – prominent “floor space,” pharmacists have moved from solely managing treatment to encouraging prevention.

Pharmacists also are helping patients to more effectively manage diseases like diabetes. Besides stocking particular products for diabetics and giving help with monitoring tools, pharmacists may make diet or lifestyle suggestions, based on current research.

And of course pharmacists also may refer clients on to emergency services, family doctors, or even suggest seeing a specialist.

Although these services vary from pharmacy to pharmacy, there is no doubt that the pharmacist remains an integral part of the community health team. So the next time you ask for a recommendation for a cold medication, be ready for more than just a wave towards the cold counter.