The doctor writes a prescription, and we go to our local drug store to fill it. That nice person in the white coat that fills that prescription is a medically trained professional who can help us more than most people realize.
“Taking your medication correctly is one of the best ways to decrease your health care costs. Each year, thousands of people end up in the hospital, fail to get better and waste money because they did not take their medication properly,” notes the American Pharmacists Association. “Pharmacists are the medication experts. You might not realize it, but they do much more than count tablets and pour liquids.”
These days, pharmacists have been on the healthcare front lines, administering the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, providing coronavirus testing—and now, as in every year, giving out flu shots. This year, that’s especially important to help avoid a “twindemic,” when seasonal flu cases could add to hospital overcrowding. In local pharmacies, in senior living communities and in hospitals, pharmacists are definitely an essential service!
For older adults, managing medications plays an especially large part in good health. Prescription medications help control a wide variety of health conditions and their symptoms. These drugs can lengthen our life, and preserve the quality of that life. But it’s important to take medications correctly. Age-related changes in the way our body processes substances as we grow older might mean that some drugs we’ve taken for years are no longer safe. Older adults are more likely to experience undesirable drug side effects, such as dizziness, depression, confusion and bone loss. A report from the Dartmouth Institute even noted that 21 different classes of medications raise the risk that a senior will suffer a debilitating fall!
To help avoid these complications, an older patient’s local pharmacist can be a great asset. Yet a recent poll from the University of Michigan found that while pharmacists perform medication reviews that help patients avoid dangerous interactions between medications, many older adults are missing out on this valuable service. They should know that Medicare Part D covers these reviews.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares information about other ways that pharmacists protect the health of patients:
Talking to patients about their medicines. The pharmacist can explain what a medicine is for, how best to use it, what side effects might occur, and what to do in the case of side effects.
Suggesting ways to help patients take their medicines. Pharmacists help patients learn how to take medicines as directed, and offer suggestions for managing them—for example, a certain routine, or tools such as a daily pillbox to help patients take their medicine at the right time and the right dose. Pharmacists also help patients connect to prescription discounts and aid programs.
Discussing overall medicine safety. Pharmacists give patients important advice on which over-the-counter drug products, such as pain medicines and dietary supplements, are safe to use in combination with their prescription medications.
Identifying and helping manage health problems. Here’s an example: If a patient has their blood pressure checked at the drugstore, they can share their numbers with the pharmacist. The pharmacist can talk to them about their risk for high blood pressure, help them monitor their blood pressure, and direct them to medical care if needed.
Helping patients manage other heath conditions. Beyond the COVID-19 and seasonal flu vaccines, pharmacists provide other immunizations, and teach patients how to use health equipment such as blood glucose monitors for people with diabetes and inhalers for those with asthma.
Working with a patient’s healthcare team. If a patient is experiencing side effects or is having trouble taking medications correctly, the pharmacist can talk to their doctor. And pharmacists can alert doctors if a newly prescribed medication might interact badly with another drug—before a problem occurs.