May 15, 2014

You might not think of calling your pharmacist if you have a medication question or minor medical problem. Your pharmacist can offer advice on prescription and over-the-counter medications and many offer treatment of minor injuries and ailments, prevention and wellness services, immunizations, and more.

Pharmacists’ roles are now expanding from drug dispensers to drug educators and chronic disease coaches, according to the Kaiser Health News article, Pharmacists Expand Role to Help Educate and Coach Patients.

The U.S. Surgeon General recently released a report that demonstrated the value of healthcare services directed by pharmacists.

Here’s how my pharmacist helped me.

It was 5:30pm on Wednesday. I’d placed a gel ice pack on the side of my knee to treat pain that resulted from an annoying, awkward twist in a Zumba class I’d tried for the first time. The knee pain was minor, was improving, but I decided to ice it in hopes that I could get back to my regular hip-hop dance class the following morning. I made the mistake of placing the gel ice pack directly on the skin. Within 7-10 minutes my knee looked as though it had been scalded with boiling water. The skin was puffed up, angry and a deep shade of pink, with a red, fuzzy line surrounding the six-inch square. It felt hot to the touch.

Since my primary care physician’s (PCP) office was closed, I called Arian Moini, a pharmacist I’d known for many years and whom I interviewed for my latest book,The Take-Charge Patient. I explained what had happened and texted him a photo of my knee, not thinking much about it, prepared for a suggestion to treat it with Benadryl ointment for some sort of allergic reaction to the plastic coating on the gel ice pack.

The phone rang two minutes later. It was Arian.

“Martine,” he said, “You have frostbite or technically frostnip.”

“I have what?” It took me a couple of seconds to zero in on what Arian had said.

He continued. “I’ve looked it up. You need to run warm water on it to warm up the tissues. Don’t use a heating pad or hot water.”

“Arian, how do you get frostbite from an ice pack?”

“Frostnip,” Arian repeated. “It’s the beginning stages of frostbite.” He then explained how it occurred and suggested that I watch it carefully and see my doctor the next day. He warned that infection could set in and encouraged me to follow up with my doctor. He also suggested Advil or Tylenol for any pain.

To be honest, I didn’t really believe him at first. Who gets frostbite from an ice pack? But I did as instructed and ran warm water over the area. The swelling reduced considerably, as did the heat that had radiated from the skin. This led me to research frostbite from icepacks. Much to my surprise, I came across a number of photos that showed affected skin identical to my knee. Several credible websites confirmed the information and treatment that Arian offered.

I started thinking about the probability that many people don’t think of their pharmacist as a resource. But in fact pharmacists offer a broad spectrum of services and are easily accessible. I’m not recommending that you replace your physician with a pharmacist or to contact your pharmacist instead of your physician. This is my disclaimer.

Tips for using your pharmacist

1. Use one pharmacy to fill your prescriptions. This allows the pharmacist to catch medication errors and drug interactions. According to the JAMA article, Pharmacist Participation on Physician Rounds and Adverse Drug Events in the Intensive Care Unit, studies show that a pharmacist’s retrospective review of medication orders prevents errors. You want your pharmacist to catch errors before they happen.

2. Establish a relationship with your pharmacist. This is a lot easier with a smaller pharmacy chain or independent pharmacy, rather than a big, nation-wide chain.

3. Review your medications with your pharmacist. Ask questions about them, such as possible side effects, interactions with other medications and supplements you might be taking, time of day to take them, if they should be taken with food, and more.

4. Generic medications come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Ask your pharmacist questions if you don’t recognize the medication you receive.

5. If you’re having trouble managing your medications, make an appointment with your pharmacist and ask him/her to help you.

6. Many pharmacists offer wellness screening programs for osteoporosis, diabetes, cholesterol, and immunizations, nutrition and diet counseling, and more. Many are also equipped to treat minor medical ailments. Ask your pharmacist if he/she provides these services.

Not every pharmacist is as knowledgeable and kind as Arian, but they are out there. You just have to look. Initiate a conversation with your pharmacist and decide if he/she is a good match for you. Ask yourself these questions: Do I feel confident in his/her expertise? Am I comfortable asking questions? Do we communicate well?

Pharmacists don’t get paid extra for phone calls or in–person consultations. Consider writing a note of thanks for extra time spent with you. If your pharmacist has gone the extra mile for you, consider a small token of appreciation. Pharmacists are generally under appreciated, as I discovered by interviewing several for my latest book.

Even though my knee was much improved by the next day, I did, as Arian suggested, follow up with my PCP.


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