“You’re going to have it so easy. Don’t you just sit around counting pills?” I cannot even come close to counting the number of times I have heard this comment. It’s a remark I hear often during a nice brunch out with friends or a casual dinner with the boyfriend’s family. I was so irritated at first. How could people not understand what I do for a living? I am simply offended to hear how little my loved ones think I am capable of. Was it not obvious? I then realized the answers to my own questions. The public really has a hard time seeing beyond the image of the pharmacist in the white coat, behind the counter at their local Walgreens or CVS.
Since I started pharmacy school at UCSF three years ago, I realized that it was my duty to help the public understand the pharmacists’ role in the healthcare system. In the near future, pharmacists will play an extremely important role in medication therapy management if healthcare reform is fully implemented. Therefore, the public needs to understand the role of pharmacists, so they can maximize their access to care and get the help they need to properly manage their medication regimens.
I can say for sure I did not spend $100,000 to go to pharmacy school just to come out and “count” pills. Pharmacists are currently playing an important role in helping patients manage their medication therapy. We meet with patients to discuss the medications they are on and whether they are appropriate for treating the patient’s current disease states. Helping the patients understand their medicines and how to take them appropriately can greatly impact a patient’s road to recovery from a surgery, comorbidities from chronic diseases, and occurrences of uncomfortable side effects.
Patients may have stopped taking a medicine because it makes them go to the bathroom 3 times during the night. Their blood pressure medication may be causing them to cough or the blood thinner they are taking increases their chances of getting huge, unsightly bruises. Others stop taking a medicine because they are simply too busy, or they forget to take it at the appropriate times. That’s exactly where we can step into patients’ lives to make a difference. We can switch the patient to a blood pressure medication that doesn’t give them an awful cough or help them come up with ways to take the medicines so it is less likely a dose would be missed.
Pharmacists can also help motivate patients to make lifestyle changes because it is the best way to naturally treat many chronic diseases. Exercise for example is extremely important and is very effective in decreasing cholesterol levels. Of course, getting a patient to exercise is not easy to do. I know it was hard for me to get started – sitting in front of a television set to watch “Glee” was just so much more enjoyable. Helping patients make difficult lifestyle changes one step at a time is another critical task for pharmacists. Medicines can help treat many diseases, but when patients combine it with exercise and a balanced, healthy diet – they are maximizing the benefits and success of their therapy.
I hope next time when you see your local pharmacist, you won’t just think of him as your local “pill picker” but rather someone who can help you manage those 10 bottles of pills you take every day but know absolutely nothing about.