Chances are good that you or someone you know uses the services of a pharmacist.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of Americans take at least one prescription drug.
But in the real world, conversations with a pharmacist are often limited or nonexistent. A 2011 Consumer Reports study of over 43,000 readers found that only 42 percent of respondents had had a conversation with their pharmacist.
But a pharmacist can be an invaluable resource to help you understand the ins and outs of your medication. And with all the changes going on in the U.S. health care system -- such as the aging of the baby boomer generation and the addition of more than 10 million new health care consumers from the Affordable Care Act -- pharmacists will play a larger role in dispensing health care information and advice.
Ned Milenkovich is a registered pharmacist and attorney with Much Shelist P.C., a Chicago-based law firm. He was a practicing pharmacist for nearly 10 years.
We asked Milenkovich about the changing role of pharmacists and how you can better use their training and knowledge to answer specific questions about medications.
Q. Does the average consumer trust his or her pharmacist?
A. It used to be that in Gallup polls, pharmacists were the most trusted medical professional. In the latest poll (December 2014), when it comes to ethics and honesty, nurses were the most trusted health care professionals. Physicians and pharmacists tied for second. It's ironic because it's much easier to see a pharmacist than your doctor or a nurse.
Q. How is the role of the pharmacist changing as our health care system changes?
A. The role of the pharmacist has been evolving for decades. In the past, consumers viewed pharmacists through the lens of the prescriptions they received.
Not only do pharmacists dispense prescriptions, but they do much more -- everything from counseling about your prescriptions to giving flu shots and taking your blood pressure.
Where the law and regulations allow the pharmacist to expand their practice into new areas, you can expect to see them providing more services.
Q. What tips do you have so consumers can maximize their limited time with their pharmacist?
A. You should feel comfortable when getting your questions answered. If a pharmacist doesn't have the time you need, it's a business decision on the pharmacy's part. If you're not satisfied with the type of service you're getting, there might be another pharmacy down the street that will meet your needs.
Too often, we spend more time thinking about what we're going to have for lunch than choosing a good pharmacy and developing a relationship with a pharmacist. But developing (this relationship) is an invaluable resource. In terms of time and money, it doesn't require much.
Q. How do you think consumers underutilize their pharmacist?
A. Remember that when you're talking with a pharmacist, what they're telling you is often just the beginning of their knowledge and expertise. As their role has expanded, so has their training. In the past, you could practice pharmacy with a bachelor's degree. Today you're required to have at least a doctor of pharmacy degree.
Nearly all states require pharmacists to counsel or offer to consult with you when you pick up a prescription. So talk with them about your prescription and any concerns.
You may not be aware that a very seasoned and educated health care professional stands behind the counter. A pharmacist can help you navigate the health care issues you're facing and identify issues wider in scope that can be stopped before they become a concern.