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A Pharmacist Sometimes Knows More About Health Than Your Doctor—Here’s Why

Don't miss the opportunity to ask your pharmacist for health advice—they might just know more than your physician on certain topics.

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How could a pharmacist know more than your doctor?

First, your pharmacist knows all kinds of secrets that could help you, so perhaps it’s time to start tapping into this under-utilized health resource. A study published in June 2017 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology revealed one thing pharmacists know more about than physicians: penicillin allergy. Apparently, 78 percent of pharmacists knew penicillin allergy can resolve over time, while only 55 percent of physicians did. And it doesn’t stop there.

Tadeh Vartanian, PharmD, clinical pharmacist at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, says that pharmacists play an integral role in the healthcare system by serving as a bridge between different specialties. “The knowledge that they possess beyond that of a physician will really depend on that physician’s specialty,” says Vartanian. “So although, for instance, a cardiologist may know the various antiarrhythmic agents very well, he or she may be less familiar with antibiotic agents, and specifically if any of them could affect the cardiovascular drugs that patient is taking. Pharmacists are the specialists that take all of that medical knowledge and bring it together to catch these types of potential errors, among many others.”

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They know what’s in your meds

Your physician might be your first port of call if you’re ill, but when it comes to what’s actually in the drugs they’ve prescribed, your pharmacist is your go-to man or woman. After all, they spent years in pharmacy school, learning about medicinal chemistry, pathophysiology, and pharmacotherapy. “Pharmacists have more training and knowledge than physicians on how medications are made into pills, patches, etc. and how medications are absorbed and distributed in the body, metabolized, and excreted,” says Sally Rafie, PharmD, pharmacist specialist at UC San Diego Health. Crucially, pharmacists are also aware of inactive ingredients in medications that may be problematic for people with allergies, and can advise how to take medications properly (with food, on an empty stomach, with a glass of water, etc). (Did you know that there is a right time to take “once a day” meds?)

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They monitor your medication use

Pharmacists are the one specialist who will do a great job at tracking your meds, which includes knowing what side effects to look out for, says Rafie. So if you’re experiencing some unexpected or undesirable effects of taking a new drug (for example a loss of sex drive while taking antidepressants or stomach pains from high cholesterol meds), your pharmacist is a great person to ask for advice. Pharmacists also study how medications interact with other drugs and conditions (pharmacodynamics), meaning you’re safe in their hands if you’re taking multiple meds. “In many complex or chronic medical conditions, pharmacists are the experts at managing the medications,” says Rafie. “Examples include high cholesterol, heart failure, transplant, diabetes, kidney disease, HIV, and so much more.” (Here are 10 questions to ask before taking prescription meds.)

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They know your medication history

If you fill your prescriptions at the same chain or pharmacy, your pharmacists readily have access to your medication fill history. They can diligently identify those patients who may have adherence issues due to any of a variety of factors, such as money, stress, lack of time, and unwanted side effects. “Patients tend to overestimate their own medication compliance, and so rarely bring it up at a physician’s office,” reveals Vartanian. “A pharmacist, however, has hard data to go by and can make appropriate interventions to enhance patient care.” Medication histories are vital to prevent prescription errors and avoid risks to patients; a 2009 article published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology stated that “pharmacists are better at taking an accurate medication history than many physicians or nurses.” If possible, try filling your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. It increases the chances of catching drug interactions and allergies.

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They focus on wellness

Pharmacists are fountains of knowledge on all aspect of wellness, such as diabetes management, vaccinations, and birth control. “The success of these services is tied to the fact that pharmacists are readily available to most patients without appointment, and this accessibility is a great benefit to patients,” says Vartanian. Pharmacists are often instrumental in helping patients quit smoking. (If you want to quit smoking, find out how ex-smokers kicked the habit for good.)

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They understand supplements

Pharmacists have an in-depth knowledge of the vitamin and supplements industry. “By law, natural products such as herbal supplements and extracts are not allowed to purport medical facts,” says Vartanian. For instance, some use green tea extract as a great fat burner. “If consumed too much, it can cause liver damage. This lack of information from the manufacturers, alongside the wide range of various products, combined with the plethora of both accurate and misleading information online, allow pharmacists to step in and provide the crucial information that patients need.” If you’re taking supplements for acne, depression, hot flashes or any other condition, make sure you tell your pharmacist so they can let you know whether they could potentially interact with your prescription meds.

Medically reviewed by Kristyn Williamson, PharmD, BCACP, on March 18, 2021