If you’re planning to ring in 2020 with some healthy New Year’s resolutions, your local pharmacist is a valuable healthcare resource who can work with you to set realistic expectations and achieve your goals.
Not only do pharmacists have extensive knowledge of both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, they can advise you on other health issues that you might not expect.
How to keep New Year’s resolutions
If you’ve made one of these New Year’s resolutions to stay healthy this year, here’s how your pharmacist can help you make 2020 the year you keep them.
1. Keep up-to-date on immunizations.
While most people know that pharmacies offer flu shots, Melissa Durham, Pharm.D., associate director of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy in Los Angeles says they also administer immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) including shingles, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), HPV and pneumonia. Dr. Durham notes that for many people, receiving a vaccine at their local pharmacy is more convenient than taking off work for a doctor’s appointment.
“Pharmacists can review a patient’s vaccine history to ensure they are current,” Dr. Durham says. “We can also answer questions about vaccines to help patients understand the benefits.”
2. Make medication adherence a priority.
Having a doctor prescribe a medication is the first step in achieving a better health outcome, but adhering to a regular medication schedule is equally important. Research shows that as many as 40% to 50% of patients who were prescribed medication for chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension did not take their medications as prescribed.
“Often patients are concerned about high prescription costs, medication side effects, or have trouble remembering to take multiple medications,” says Laura Happe, Pharm.D., MPH, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based pharmacist and author of If You Give an Ox an Oxy.
Dr. Happe says pharmacists can address these issues with pillboxes, timers, and smartphone apps that serve as medication reminders. They can also talk to patients about their fear of side effects and adverse events, or suggest a safer medication option.
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“Several studies have shown an association between opioid use (for pain) and risk of falls in older patients,” Happe says. “We can work with patients to adjust their dose or suggest alternative treatments for pain that might include physical therapy, acupuncture, lidocaine patches, and meditation or cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronic pain.”
3. Save money.
While the cost of prescriptions can seem daunting, Dr. Durham says there are ways that pharmacists can help consumers save money and advises patients to never quit taking a prescription because of cost.
“We’re happy to sit down with patients and review their medications to find a lower cost alternative,” Dr. Durham says. “Sometimes patients are on two different medications for a condition such as hypertension and aren’t aware they could be taking one combination pill instead of two.”
Dr. Happe says pharmacists can also work with patients to review different insurance options to find a lower co-pay, identify generic medications that are less expensive, determine if patients qualify for an assistance program offered by pharmaceutical companies, or help you look up the price of your medication with a pharmacy savings card like SingleCare.
4. Supplement smart.
For those who are considering taking a dietary or herbal supplement, Dr. Durham says pharmacists can help consumers choose wisely.
“A doctor may advise a patient to supplement if tests show they have low levels of iron or vitamins such as D or B12,” Dr. Durham says. “We can help patients to choose the right product and dose for their individual needs.”
Since herbal supplements aren’t subject to review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), pharmacists can advise on whether there may be any drug interactions. For example, the Mayo Clinic notes the use of CoenzymeQ10 (CoQ10) when used with prescription medications such as Warfarin, a blood thinner, may decrease the effects of the medication and increase the risk for clots.
“It’s not uncommon for people to visit the pharmacy seeking supplements or weight loss aids they’ve seen advertised on TV,” Dr. Durham says. “We encourage patients to discuss the product with a pharmacist first since many of these pills can cause unwanted side effects such as an increased heart rate or diarrhea.”
5. Clean out and restock your medicine cabinet.
“The beginning of a new year is also a good time to get organized, safely dispose of expired prescriptions, and ensure the medications and supplies you should always have in your home (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain/fever and hydrocortisone cream for itches and bug bites) are readily available,” says Dr. Durham.
No matter what health issue you’ve resolved to tackle this year, your community pharmacist can help set you on the path to achieving your goals.