5 Things Pharmacists Can Teach Patients About Prescription Drugs


What patients don't know about their prescription medications can hurt them.

What patients don’t know about their prescription medications can hurt them.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans take a prescription drug, while about 21% of them regularly take 3 or more prescription medications.

Pharmacists can promote patient safety by making sure that patients know the ins and outs of their medications, which can reduce preventable harm and medication errors.

Specifically, pharmacists can help patients learn the following about their medications.

1. Understand What Medications They Are Taking and Why

Nearly half of US adults have trouble understanding their medications’ instructions, according to the Institute of Medicine. Pharmacists can play a major role in helping patients understand why their medicines are necessary.

Common mistakes that patients make with respect to their medications include forgetting the initials following the drug’s name (“XR” for extended release or “LA” for long-acting) and not knowing whether they are taking the brand name or a generic version.

Pharmacists can clear this confusion by engaging patients in interactive conversations that can help them increase their health literacy level.

Notably, the teenage population has a particularly low level of understanding about how their medications work. Studies have shown that an alarming 50% of teens aren’t properly educated on OTC medications, so pharmacists should interact with parents to make sure that they are aware of their children’s medication regimens.

2. Know How and When to Take Their Medications

While most Americans recognize the importance of taking prescribed medication as directed, those who skip or forget doses are less likely to understand the health consequences of nonadherence.

Patients need to be aware of their medication’s dosage, timing of administration, and intended length of therapy, as well as whether it needs to be taken with food.

Pharmacists can play a key role in making sure patients understand their medications, especially during transitions of care. For example, patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and their caregivers should be able to demonstrate proper inhaler technique at the time of discharge.

3. Recognize Side Effects and Know What to Do If They Occur

Side effects can range from strange, to disgusting, to scary, so patients need to be aware of what to look for. It is also important for patients to understand the difference between a drug’s side effect and an avoidable drug-drug interaction with adverse effects.

Pharmacists should make sure that they are aware of all possible side effects, especially for drugs with black box warnings.

4. Understand the Dangers of Sharing Medications

Because different individuals can react differently to the same medication, it is important for pharmacists to emphasize just how dangerous it is for a patient to share his or her medications.

Medication sharing is especially prevalent among adolescent and young adult patients. A survey revealed that 71% of college students believe that sharing prescription drugs is somewhat or very common among their acquaintances. Of the students who had shared or knew of shared prescription medications, 50% reported sharing of pain medications, 38% reported sharing of amphetamines, and 41% reported sharing of muscle relaxants.

5. Learn How to Save Money on Medications

Pharmacists can help patients save some cash each time they approach the pharmacy counter.

According to drug pricing research firm Truveris, the cost of generic medications overall increased by 5% in 2014, though more extreme surges were seen when the data was broken down by therapeutic area. Medical conditions that saw the largest increases in generic drug prices included muscle pain and stiffness (31.9%), inflammation (31.7%), heart disease (23.7%), acne (18.1%), and infections (11.8%).

Pharmacists can help patients lower their medication costs by:

· Offering to process the prescription without going through insurance.

· Performing a medication review to eliminate the possibility of polypharmacy and unnecessary drugs.

· Encouraging patients to fill 90-day prescriptions.

· Dispensing a generic version of a brand-name drug, if available.

· Advising the patient to safely split pills when appropriate.

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