Your community pharmacist is one of your most accessible, trusted, and knowledgeable health care providers. Pharmacists are building on their traditional role of accurately preparing, labelling, dispensing, and advising you on your medications into a role that focuses more on you. Pharmacists are available to help you manage your condition by helping you set health goals and advise you on strategies to support daily living. The choices and decisions are still yours to make; however, through engagement and conversation, your pharmacist can guide you to make better choices for better health.

The expanded role often starts with a medication review. The pharmacist assesses you and your medical concerns and prepares a list of all of your medications and treatments. They meet with you to ensure you know which medications you are taking, which condition each is for, what benefits you should expect from the therapy, and what might go wrong. They make sure you know how soon new therapies should start to work and when to come back, should problems arise or persist.

In some provinces, pharmacists may build on the medication review and adapt your prescription to another strength, frequency, or format of the drug, or offer suggestions of other drugs to better align the therapy with your unique needs. They may assess and prescribe treatments for self-limited conditions or assess and refer when they believe you have something more significant brewing. They might support assessment and renewal of long-term therapies if your health has been stable and you cannot readily get in to see your physician. Counselling and prescribing of aids to support you in quitting smoking, adjustment of key therapies for individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure or other heart conditions may all be part of the services available from your pharmacist. They may assess and advise on vaccines, ongoing immunizations and other injections for travel, seasonal influenza, and administer these therapies as well. A full description of the services available to you from you pharmacist by province has been compiled by the Canadian Pharmacists Association.1

In all cases, the pharmacist works with your other health care providers. Once you have agreed to the therapy and plan, your pharmacist will inform your other providers to make sure your whole team is aware of the plan and will be supporting you in attaining your health goals.

You are the one who knows your health, goals, and desires best. You can do a lot to make sure the pharmacist and other providers are helping you manage your condition. Preparing for your next visit and the conversation you will have with your pharmacist will help to get the most from the visit and from your drug therapy. It’s easy because the focus is on you. Prior to your next visit, stop and consider which medications you are taking and how and when you take them. Assess yourself: Have the medications been working? Do you know what to do if they are not? Are you aware of any side effects you should watch for, and what to do if you experience them? Are you aware of foods, other drugs, and activities you should avoid or undertake with caution while taking your medications? To help you prepare, Guirguis and Johnson2 have compiled checklists of common questions for new prescriptions, prescription refills, and medication reviews. An additional resource that many find helpful is MyMedRec, an app that is part of the Knowledge is the Best Medicine (KiBM) website, which was developed by a broad coalition of health care provider organizations, patient groups (including the GI Society, as a member of the Best Medicines Coalition; see the Inside Tract® newsletter, Issue 182), and the pharmaceutical industry.3 Write out your questions and take them with you to discuss with your pharmacist on your next visit. The pharmacist may answer many of the questions you have as part of your regular pharmacy visit, when picking up your medications. When a more detailed assessment and planning session is required, your pharmacist might ask to set up an appointment at a mutually convenient time, to ensure there are no interruptions, so both of you can focus on optimizing your plan.

With this planning and consideration, I’m sure you will benefit from what your pharmacist can do for you!

Steve Long, BSc(Pharm), MBA
Consulting Pharmacist, Calgary, Alberta
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 189 – 2014
1. Canadian Pharmacists Association; Pharmacists medication management services, Environmental scan of activities across Canada. October 2013.—cpha-october-2013—final.pdf  Accessed 2014-02-16
2. Guirguis L, Johnson S; Canadian Pharmacists Association; Connect and Care Models and Tools. May 2013.  Accessed 2104-02-16
3. Canada’s Research Based Pharmaceutical Companies; Knowledge is the Best Medicine. Accessed 2014-02-16