Jennifer Mittler-Lee's COLUMN

12 Things Pharmacists Want You to Know

Towards a better understanding of your pharmacist

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Whether you find us behind the counter or buried deep in the basement of the hospital, pharmacists share these thoughts in common.

1. We’ve heard your embarrassing question before.

Unless you make a big deal, we likely won’t remember how you once asked us about toenail fungus.

By the time we’ve graduated, we’ve been exposed to all types of questions and scenarios. We have heard the stories about how patients accidentally brushed their teeth with hemorrhoid cream, tried to swallow suppositories, and have been unable to remove tampons.

Those of us working in hospitals have likely experienced trauma patients and death. Although we never get used to it, familiarity does make it easier.

So relax, we would rather you ask us than guess or choose not to treat your condition. We promise not to laugh (unless you want us to).

2. Although we are drug experts, we know about general health conditions too.

Pharmacy school isn’t only studying drugs. We spend the first few semesters on basic anatomy and physiology. Once we know how the body normally functions, then we move on to disease states. Learning what can go wrong helps us to understand how drugs work. Each lesson builds on the other.

So, we will know about chronic disease states like high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis, and be able to answer questions you may have.

3. Please don’t ask us where the sale items are in the store.

We probably don’t know, and unless it’s a slow day, usually don’t have the time to check for you. And don’t expect us, or the people in line behind you, to appreciate checking out all the items in your cart.

That being said, we don’t mind going into the cold medication aisle and pointing out a few choices since that is within our scope of practice.

4. We’re masterminds at solving insurance issues, but we appreciate your patience.

Every insurance card is a puzzle. Some of them require a zero before the member ID, some want the person code after. Some don’t want the letters, some require a special group number that isn’t on the card. We likely know the major carriers, but sometimes we get thrown for a loop.

We are also used to insurance rejections. “Refill too soon”, “drug not covered”, “prior authorization required”. All of these issues require time to dig into.

Also, please know that we have no control over your copay. Yes, last time it was $20, and now it’s $30. Copays go up all the time. Deductibles start over every year.

If we have billed the insurance, the price comes from them.

Pharmacy, 1625, London. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

5. We will remember if you are rude to us and our technicians.

We see a lot of patients and fill a ton of prescriptions every day. Unless you are a frequent guest, we will likely have forgotten your name five minutes after saying goodbye.

However, we remember the ones that yell. We remember the ones that make unreasonable demands. We remember the ones that try to bully our students and technicians for problems that are out of their control.

We understand that you may be sick and in pain. We know you likely spent hours in the ER or doctor’s office and just want to go home. We’ll give you a pass for that, but we are still human and deserve to be treated with respect.

6. Technicians aren’t pharmacists, don’t ask them drug questions.

Speaking of our technicians, they do a heck of a lot of work. Without them, our pharmacies would implode. They receive special education and training to be able to perform their job.

That being said, save your medication questions for the pharmacist. Legal requirements aside, the pharmacist is the one with 6 plus years of education, residencies, and credentials.

On the flip side, we are extremely busy and if every caller asks to “speak with the pharmacist” just to find out the price of their medication or if it’s ready for pick-up, questions a technician is more than qualified to answer, then we can’t do our work efficiently.

7. We work tirelessly behind the scenes during your hospital stay too.

A pharmacist will review each medication order for every patient who enters the hospital. Just like at the drug store, you can rest assured that we have screened the order against your allergies, checked if the dose is appropriate for your weight and age, and reviewed it for interactions with other medications you may be taking.

Sometimes we even consult with other members of your health care team in determining your treatment plan.

If you have ever received an antibiotic or blood thinner in the hospital, chances are a pharmacist calculated the initial dose and monitored it daily.

8. Don’t bring a grocery bag full of your prescriptions to the hospital.

Patients are not usually allowed to keep medications at the bedside, so guess what will happen to the prescriptions you bring in with you? Your family member will be asked to take them right back home.

The alternative is to have your medications stored in the pharmacy. This means they go into a drawer somewhere in the back corner. The nurse who drops off your medication receives a receipt. It’s up to them (and you) to remember to pick them up at discharge.

You can imagine how many “patient’s own meds” get left behind.

The exception to this rule is if you are taking a rare, brand-new, or essential drug. Hospital pharmacies stock the basics, but we won’t carry everything. If we don’t have it, we will ask a family member to bring it in so it can be continued during your stay.

Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science: students preparing medicine. Photograph, c. 1933.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

9. If we don’t have the drug in stock, we will help you find it.

Did your doctor order a medication that we don’t stock? No problem. Chain drug stores are all connected by the same computer system making transferring prescriptions easy.

The same goes for hospital stays. We can call our buddy hospitals and borrow medications from them. A courier will pick up the drug and deliver it to us. Again, we appreciate your patience as this process can take a few hours.

10. We are human.

We have an outstanding assortment of technology at our disposal. Robots fill medications. Barcode scanners ensure the correct bottle of pills is chosen. Electronic prescriptions reduce transcription errors. Automated dispensing machines allow nurses to choose the correct drug at the hospital.

Many sets of eyes see a prescription order from start to finish but remember that the last link in the chain is you.

When you get your refill home, take a moment to look at it. Are the pills the same color and shape as last time? Is it a new prescription? Most pharmacies include descriptions of what the tablet looks like on the bottle’s label. Did the nurse scan your wristband before scanning the medication bar code at the hospital?

All of these steps will help to ensure your safety. Medication mix-ups happen. They can be bad. Help us to prevent them.

11. Doctors’ handwriting really is terrible.

Sometimes we rely on clues in the strength or indication. Sometimes we pass it around and everyone takes a guess. Worst case, we have to call the office. That’s why we are grateful that most prescriptions these days are electronic.

However, electronic doesn’t mean fool-proof. Doctors can still choose an incorrect drug from a drop-down or predictive text list.

That’s another reason you should always ask questions about your prescription. We can determine pretty quickly that the wrong medication was filled if we counsel you on diabetes medication for your earache.

12. We went into this to help others, not for the money.

Even though we sometimes look frazzled and stressed, please know we genuinely want you to understand your medications. We will always take time out for questions, counseling, and concerns.

We went into pharmacy school to be health-care providers, not to drive around in Lamborghinis.

Trust us, the money we are making barely covers the cost of our education. Most of us work more than one job. There are easier ways to make money.

We do it because we care.


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Jennifer Mittler-Lee B.S. Pharma
Jennifer Mittler-Lee B.S. Pharma

I am a pharmacist with over 20 years in the industry. I have worked both retail and hospital and have been known to frequent the nightshift. As a pharmacist, I see how medical jargon confuses people. I like to write healthcare articles in a casual manner in order to connect. Find me on Medium @jrmittle

Jennifer Mittler-Lee

B.S. Pharma

I am a pharmacist with over 20 years in the industry. I have worked both retail and hospital and have been known to frequent the night shift. As a pharmacist, I see how medical jargon confuses people. I like to write healthcare articles in a casual manner in order to connect.





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