How Much Can Your Pharmacist Help Your Health?

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Your medications are an important part of your wellness routine, but at times they can also make you feel overwhelmed ― whether it's due to their cost, how many you take, their requirements and side effects, or the frequent trips to the pharmacy for refills. This is where pharmacists come in. Pharmacists are valuable members of your health care team and are available to discuss any and all questions you have about your medications.

"Your pharmacist is your source of truth for all the medication you're taking. They see the big picture and are really a part of your health care team," says Erin McKenna, Medicare Chief Pharmacy Officer for Aetna.

Here are three ways your pharmacist supports your health and well-being:


1. They promote safe medication use.

According to the American Pharmacists Association, people 65 and older are at a significantly higher risk for adverse drug interactions. Why? Older adults tend to receive prescriptions from different health care providers, such as their PCP, but often also have care from cardiologists, pulmonologists, endocrinologists, and other specialty doctors. It's possible that each doctor may not know about what the others are prescribing, as part of your overall health care regimen. Your pharmacist, however, has a big-picture view of all of the medications you're taking and understands how they interact.

"Pharmacists go to school for a long time to learn about drugs and how they help disease states, and part of their specialty is knowing how to safely use drugs and how the drugs work together," says McKenna. "If you're on a strong pain medication, for example, and they see you've been prescribed an anxiety or a sleeping medication on top of that, they'll identify that as a risky drug combination and take appropriate steps."

This is why, McKenna says, you should think of your pharmacist as part of your core health care team.

"[Your pharmacist] can let you know when and how to take your medications — such as whether you need to eat beforehand. And if you're on a bunch of medications, they'll help you come up with a road map of sorts to help you make sense of your regimen, the best time of day to take each as well as those to take around mealtime or bedtime," says McKenna.

Additionally, if your pharmacist notices you've been prescribed medications that may interact poorly together, they'll contact your doctors to find a safer method of treatment, and alert you to any side effects associated with your medications.

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2. They can help you keep costs down.

Prescription drugs can be expensive, especially brand-name drugs. Luckily, your pharmacist is a great source for finding lower-cost alternatives.

"Your pharmacist knows the generic versions of brand-name drugs that work the same but cost less, as well as medications that work similarly to the ones you are taking, but might cost less," says McKenna. "If you're finding it difficult to pay for your medications, they'll work with you and your doctor to try and find an affordable drug option."

Your pharmacist can also help you work through any claims issues.

"If your Medicare prescription drug plan isn't paying for a claim, your pharmacist should be able to tell you why as well as the next steps to take to resolve the issue," says McKenna.

Remember, if you're on a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage, taking medications that are on your plan's formulary and going to a pharmacy in your plan's network can help you save money. Call your plan to learn more about your drug formulary and in-network pharmacy options.

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3. They can help make managing medications easier.

When you're on multiple medications that tend to be filled at different times throughout the month, it's easy to forget to pick up one or two of them. This can cause you to miss a dose and may put your health at risk. But if you go to the same pharmacy for each of your medications, your pharmacist can recommend easier ways to manage your prescriptions.

"Many pharmacies are able to work with your insurer so that you can get all your routine prescriptions filled at once. Instead of having to go to the pharmacy multiple times a month to pick up your prescriptions, they can have all of your medications ready on the same day," McKenna says.

Depending on the medications you take and how often you take them, your pharmacist may also be able to help you get a 90-day supply of your prescription drugs, rather than a 30-day supply. Your pharmacist can also offer tips and tricks for organizing and remembering to take your medications, too.

Having a strong relationship with your pharmacist really can make a difference in your health. The next time you have a question about your medications, look to them as a trusted source.

Rachel Quetti is a health care writer at Aetna with experience in senior wellness, Medicare, commercial health care, and consumer engagement. When Rachel isn't trying out new fitness classes, she is cooking up fun, (mostly) healthy recipes in the kitchen. Rachel lives in Watertown, Massachusetts and has a degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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