3 Things Pharmacists Should Always Do for Patients

There are some core functions that we, as pharmacists, should be providing the patients we serve.

There are some core functions that we, as pharmacists, should be providing the patients we serve, but let’s face it: not all members of our profession are holding up their end of the bargain.

I get most of my prescriptions filled at a pharmacy other than the one where I work. When you’re only picking up the occasional weekend shift, there’s no guarantee you’re going to be on the clock when it’s time for a refill.

Because of this, I get to have the “patient experience” of using a busy, 24-hour store. This really isn’t a problem for me. (If I need the pharmacist to counsel me, then I have even bigger problems.)

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with community health workers working with Medicaid and special needs populations in our area. In our discussion, I was readily told that the pharmacist is the solution to some of the remarkable problems they were seeing every day related to medication use.

I left the conversation feeling encouraged that we can provide solutions to our most vulnerable patients, but many of these problems could be stopped before they occur if we would always do the following 3 things for our patients:

1. Help them get to know their medication.

This may seem basic, but the simple “What questions do you have for me?” may not be enough to make patients familiar with their new prescriptions. You may not be aware of any gaps in patients’ medical knowledge, and there’s a good chance that they aren’t aware of those gaps, either.

For every new prescription, you may want to try the “Make sure you remember…” approach. If you acknowledge that there’s a decent likelihood that the prescriber has already gone over the medication with the patient, but you are just reinforcing the most important points, then there’s a chance that you may catch something that has been forgotten.

2. Follow up with them.

This is something I’m pleased to be seeing more and more as pharmacies ramp up their efforts to improve medication adherence. When you call up a patient every once in awhile to see how treatment’s going, it’s another opportunity to correct problems before they become severe.

If the patient hasn’t been taking a medication because of a side effect, it gives you the opportunity to recommend a new therapy to the prescriber. If patients say they have to use their inhaler more than normal, it might not be a bad idea to have them show you how they’re using it next time they’re picking up that refill.

It’s important that we make patients feel like their care matters to us, and to remind them that they are more than just a series of prescription numbers on a call-back list.

3. Follow up with their prescribers.

In the interdisciplinary age of health care, this is an absolute must. Yet, in my experience, I feel like this is something we don’t do enough of. I have friends and family members who have been on complex and shifting medication regimens, and the unfortunate tendency of some pharmacists is to just fill the next prescription that’s right in front of them.

If you’re noticing 2 different doses of the same medication from 2 different prescribers, do the patient a favor and act as their intermediary. You, as a pharmacist, are much better equipped to handle the complexity of some of these little changes than the patient is.

I can assure you that communications between the patient’s primary care physician and specialist aren’t necessary any better than yours. In my discussions with the community health workers, this was their #1 concern.

As a result of the lack of communication between health care professionals, patients are being put in the place of being the intermediary. This is perhaps the greatest opportunity pharmacists have for advancing our practice in the outpatient setting.

I’m well aware of the constraints we all face with staffing shortages and high prescription volumes. Figuring out the workflow and increasing workplace efficiencies will be key in allowing you to take a more “high touch” approach with each of your patients.

One tip that may help with this is to not try to change the world overnight. Little changes with patients, one intervention at a time, slowly add up to improved service delivery.

As you start to get your patients on the same page, I think you’ll find that this will pay off in terms of workplace efficiency, as well. I’m not saying these are easy things to do. I’m saying these are the things that we should do.