Behind the Scenes with Your Pharmacist



When you take a prescription to the pharmacy, you may have to wait for a period of time until it is ready. You are probably anxious to get home and may not realize just what your pharmacist is doing for you during that time. Here's a look at what your pharmacist typically does to make sure the medicine is safe and right for you.

Clarify your prescription. Sometimes doctors accidentally leave out important information or their writing may make it hard for the pharmacist to understand your prescription. In these cases, your pharmacist calls your doctor before filling your prescription.

Enter your information. Once the prescription is clear, the pharmacist enters the information into a computer so there will be a complete record of all the medicines you take.

Check your history. Your pharmacist then looks at all the medicines you take (including non-prescription medicines you have told your pharmacist about). This is to make sure you have not been given prescriptions for more than one medicine that serves the same purpose. This sometimes happens if you visit several doctors who don't know what each has prescribed for you. The pharmacist may need to call your doctors so that you do not buy or take unnecessary medicines or take too much medicine.

Look for interactions. Your pharmacist makes sure that the new medicine is safe to take with other medicines you are taking. For example, the antibiotic Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim) increases the action of blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), which could lead to bleeding. Your pharmacist also checks if the effect of the medicine could be changed by diseases you have, or by what you eat and drink. For instance, the pharmacist may need to call your doctor if the medicine prescribed for your stuffy nose is not recommended because you have high blood pressure. Your pharmacist may also need to put stickers on your prescription vial that tell you what foods or drinks to avoid while taking the medicine.

Check allergies. As long as you have told your pharmacist about your allergies, he or she checks whether you are allergic to the medicine. This can be tricky because some medicines have different ingredients and you might be allergic to just one; other medicines are known to cause an allergic reaction if you are allergic to a similar medicine.

Verify safety and effectiveness. Your pharmacist checks your prescription by verifying the dose and how long it should be taken. All medicines have recommended doses and specific conditions they treat. If your dose is different from this, or if the medicine is not commonly used to treat your condition, the pharmacist may need to call your doctor for more information. Your pharmacist may recommend a different dose or medicine to your doctor. Pharmacists can give a "second opinion" about medicines.

Work with your insurer. If you have insurance for prescription medicines, your pharmacist files a claim with your company to get approval for payment. This may take some time, especially if you have changes in your insurance coverage or a new insurance company.

Double-check the prescription. Before your medicine is ready for you, the pharmacist rechecks the label on your prescription and compares it to what the doctor has prescribed. He or she then checks the contents of the bottle or package and compares it to the supply used to fill your prescription to make sure it's the right medicine.

The computer used in the pharmacy often has high-tech software programs to help your pharmacist complete each of these steps. This, along with your highly educated pharmacist, helps to ensure your safety and health. You can contribute to your own safety by allowing your pharmacist the time necessary to complete each of the above functions without distraction. Whenever possible, drop your prescriptions off in the morning and pick them up later in the day. Or, call the pharmacy a day ahead of time for refills. Making sure your medicines are safe and effective takes time.

Adapted with permission from How Your Pharmacist Fills Your Prescription, accessed on the American Pharmacists Association website.

Created on September 1, 2006

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