What Do Pharmacists Do? (Explained by 5 Licensed Pharmacists)

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We asked experts to describe some of the fundamental roles of being a licensed pharmacist.

Jerrica Dodd, PharmD, MS

Jerrica L. Dodd

Founder & CEO, Your Pharmacy Advocate

Pharmacists are a critical component of the health care team in the hospital, the community, and various other settings.

Pharmacists train extensively on medications and supplements and are sought out for the medication knowledge by other healthcare practitioners as well as patients.

Things a pharmacist can do that many are not aware:

  1. Read and interpret genetic test results to help assist with drug therapy selection (pharmacogenomics)
  2. Read and interpret genetic test results to help assist with food and nutrient selection to support patient health (nutrigenomics)
  3. Assist patients with smoking cessation
  4. Assist patients with preparing for international travel (vaccines, meds, etc)
  5. Assist with patient diets as they relate to medication management
  6. Assist with deprescribing medications (helping patients reduce the number of medications they are taking)

Pharmacist generally provides these functions/activities when taking care of patients and reviewing their medications:

  • Drug-drug interactions
  • Drug-supplement interactions
  • Drug-food interactions
  • Drug/supplement dose review: appropriateness for reported diagnoses, age, co-existing conditions-one condition causing the other (i.e. anxiety & insomnia), etc
  • Nutrient depletion
  • Lab results review
  • Medication list review for adherence, compliance, understanding
  • Medical History review as relates to the medication list
  • Medication reconciliation
  • General recommendations to support patient specific compliance and adherence to medication regimen
  • General lifestyle modification suggestions to support overall improved health
  • Support in helping patients know specific questions to ask their healthcare practitioners regarding their medications and health
  • Advice in preparation from a medication perspective for physician’s visits and/or procedures
  • Communication electronically (or verbally if needed) with the patient’s healthcare practitioner regarding patient action plan or medication suggestions of dosing, interactions, etc.
  • Suggestion of non-prescription recommendations (if applicable) that may support a patient’s specific health
  • Answer patient/caregiver initiated questions regarding medications, supplements, side effects, and interaction

Danielle Plummer, PharmD

Danielle Plummer

Doctor of Pharmacy | Pharmacist Consultant at HGPharmacist

In the public eye, a pharmacist is a person in the white coat behind the retail counter. Both my father and grandfather were retail pharmacists and embodied the image of the friendly, knowledgeable pharmacist, compounding, dispensing and counseling on medications.

The role of the retail pharmacist has now expanded to include immunizations, medication reconciliation, and insurance resolution.

Another branch of retail pharmacy includes specialty medication, which entails extremely high-priced medication and often difficult to treat disease states. Retail pharmacists also do community outreach services including immunization clinics and blood pressure testing for local organizations.

What most people do not know is that the profession of pharmacy vastly expands beyond the retail role. Pharmacists work in a variety of settings including hospitals, long term care facilities, ambulatory care centers, infusion centers, home health, coumadin clinics, and military treatment facilities.

Within hospital systems, pharmacists can either be centralized as inpatient pharmacists verifying orders and ensuring the medications are made correctly or decentralized clinical pharmacists in areas of care including the emergency room, intensive care unit, oncology wards, and even transplant centers, among others.

These pharmacists work with interdisciplinary teams which include medical doctors, nurses, registered dieticians, respiratory therapists, and cases managers/social workers. Still, other pharmacists work directly in doctor’s offices doing chronic care management, including medication therapy management.

Pharmacist’s specialties include geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, infectious disease (including HIV), addiction treatment and pharmacogenetics. As the traditional payment model is changing, with insurance companies and Pharmacy Benefit Management Companies (PBMs) reimbursing less and less, other opportunities are opening including consulting and concierge services.

Pharmapreneurs” the new word for a growing number of entrepreneur pharmacists is part of the ever-changing role of a pharmacist which now includes neutrogenics, epigenics, pharmacogenetics, and functional medicine, while other pharmacists are focusing on disease states like thyroid or autoimmune disorders.

Studies have shown that medication errors and adverse effects are the #4 leading cause of death in the US. With the general population on more medications than ever before in history (called polypharmacy) and patients seeing multiple doctors while in and out of hospitals, it is extremely important to have a pharmacist be an integral part of every medical team.

Some say that pharmacists are the unsung heroes of healthcare. After a close friend was in the hospital and found out I was the pharmacist who verified his doctor’s medication orders, he said that I was the guardian angel looking over his shoulder.

Jason Reed, PharmD

Jason Reed

Doctor of Pharmacy | Author, “Prescription for Maximum Savings

Pharmacists can wear many different hats. Most people would think that they work in a drug store on the corner and the main choice is between a major chain or a small independent.

Thankfully, that is not the only practice settings available. I took a non-traditional route by getting into health information technology. I use my clinical expertise in a business role to guide the development of technology products. These products include things such as e-Prescribing, eligibility, formulary and benefit, electronic prior authorization and real-time benefit check.

All of these allow a prescriber to have a real-time look at the benefits and pharmacy information that is specific to the patient in the exam room while they are in the visit. These prevent unwanted problems for the patient when they arrive a the pharmacy to get the prescription. In addition to building these products for my company, I have become involved in standards organizations like X12, NCPDP, and HL-7 that facilitate the electronic exchange of health information.

I have also moonlighted as a staff pharmacist in an inpatient pharmacy setting for over 10 years. In this role, I verify orders in an electronic medical record system. In addition to dosing antibiotics, preparing intravenous therapy, chemotherapy, and total parenteral nutrition.

There are numerous other clinical interventions that pharmacists make on the inpatient side to prevent drug interactions or dosing errors.

Scott McDougall (MPharm)

Scott McDougall

Co-founder and Registered Manager of The Independent Pharmacy

As an online pharmacist, I’m often asked the difference between what I do and what your everyday drugstore pharmacist does. The truth is, there’s very little difference at all. We fill out prescriptions, provide advice on healthcare, and help patients find the right treatment.

The only real difference is that, for me, all of the above is completed online. Rather than having to speak to a pharmacist face-to-face, my patients complete a short online health assessment.

This involves questions about your current state of health, medical history, and anything else that will help us assess your query and find the right treatment for you. It’s no different to the conversation you’d have with your doctor, and of course, it’s all 100% confidential.

This online questionnaire helps me address my patients’ needs so they receive accurate, safe advice and can make an informed decision about their health.

This is in contrast to potentially dangerous illegitimate prescribing sites. They often won’t ask you to fill out an online healthcare assessment, or will only provide a cursory questionnaire that barely gets to the root of the problem.

A good online pharmacy puts their patients first, keeping them safe and informed throughout the process.

Christina Habib

Licensed Pharmacist, Community Choice Pharmacy

As a Pharmacist, it’s my obligation to ensure the proper medication prescribed to each person is indeed a safe and correct script to assist their condition.

My passion for pharmacy goes beyond the importance of guidance and compliance, I believe in bringing a level of compassion outside the typical Pharmacist and Patient relationship is paramount for enhanced communication and well-being. One key aspect is to really have the ability to listen, not only regarding the condition but the concerns and stresses that I am able to assist with.

My favorite thing to do as a pharmacist is to make things simple for my patients so that they are relieved when they leave as they know they will get better.

This allows the opportunity for each individual to feel more at ease and better understand the best way to get better faster. Having the ability to bring simplicity to the Pharmacist’s role delivers a level of compassion in which helps all patients communicate much easier.

As a pharmacist, I help my patient feel less anxious when they come in with serious illnesses and have a lot of questions. I try to reassure them that I am always here for them. Understanding that as a Pharmacist we have the ability to build a regimented plan for their medications and how best to use them is key to a fast recovery and sustainability. Giving the patient the ability to disarm their worries is crucial for a more compassionate delivery.