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Medication Safety and the Pharmacist’s Role

  • January 18, 2011
  • RPh on the Go

The new Walgreens commercials address a growing concern in patient care. The point made was simple. If you bring all your medications to a Walgreens pharmacy, they will keep track of everything you’re taking, including supplements, vitamins, and herbal remedies, in order to warn you of possible drug interactions. This is a powerful selling point. In an article published on ModernMedicine.com, Deb Saine, MS, RPh, medication safety manager at the Winchester Medical Center/Valley Health in Winchester, Virginia said, “Pharmacists should have a leadership role in planning, selection, system design, development, implementation, and maintenance. The goal is to ensure that technology supports safe medication use.”

Walgreens has clearly embraced this concept. Patient education has traditionally been a key role of pharmacists. At the doctor’s office, instructions can be lost amid diagnosis, warnings, advice, scheduling, and patient questions. Patients are not always clear on important details like when to take their medications, with what foods, and what is the correct dosage. It is the pharmacist’s job to make sure they know what they’re doing, and pharmacies are the logical link in the chain to track medications.

Drug Interaction Factors

With the technology available today, you’d imagine that drug interactions would be rare, but in fact, they are still quite common. The one-stop family doctor is all but extinct for patients with chronic conditions, and today’s patients are shunted from specialist to specialist. A patient with a number of conditions, like a diabetic with a heart condition and allergies, might regularly see four or five different doctors, plus a dietitian, a dentist, an ophthalmologist, and maybe a gynecologist, a urologist, and a proctologist. Throw in a dermatologist, a podiatrist, and a chiropractor…and contemplating the list could send a patient straight to a psychiatrist. Each of these doctors will ask for a list of medications, but the truth is that patients often forget details or leave out important considerations like medicines they are not currently taking because they have run out, but will take again soon. They may also neglect to mention supplements, herbs, and vitamins.

Pharmacists Can Make the Difference

Assuming that a patient purchases all of their drugs at a single pharmacy, the pharmacist has all the information at hand from every doctor, which makes the pharmacy the unifying link in the medical chain. In addition to dispensing medicine and information, the pharmacist is in a unique position to talk to the patient about unexpected interactions from everyday activities like eating grapefruit or taking OTC NSAIDs. Taking an active role in the health of your customers can really make a difference in their health. Do you take the time to get to know your patients? Ask questions that might lead to greater insight and track the answers? Track customer history and compare drugs for interactions?

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