Harlem Word: Dr. Rabia Tahir shares tips on the best ways to communicate with a pharmacist

Editor July 1st, 2010

Harlem-based professor and pharmacist, Dr. Rabia Tahir, Pharm.D, tells us how you can get the most out of your visits to the pharmacy and learn how to communicate with your pharmacist. Check out what she has to say below!

Q: What should someone look for in a pharmacist?

A: An important thing is the comfort level with your pharmacist which is important when choosing any health care professional.  If you are comfortable with someone, you're going to be able express yourself better because you won't feel embarrassed and be afraid to speak up.  Also, pick someone you understand and who is patient in explaining things to you when you don't get what they are saying. Another thing to look for in a pharmacist is consistency.  If the pharmacist is only at the store once a week, that's something to think about.  You want to make sure that there's someone there often.  Most pharmacists have different schedules and it is a good idea to ask your pharmacists their timings. A crazy, busy store might not be the place for you if you want more one-on-one time with a pharmacist to ask questions.  Finally, you want someone you trust.  Pharmacists are the last stop when you get health care.  You may go through a doctor or nurse, and at the end, you get your medicine from your pharmacist.  All those questions you didn't get a chance to ask your doctor, or that you didn't feel comfortable asking your doctor, can be asked to your pharmacist.  You really want to trust that person and feel comfortable with them to talk to them.

Q: Once we've found the right pharmacist how can they help us besides just preparing and giving out medicine?

A: The pharmacist can provide a lot of information about your general health, such as diet, exercise, over-the-counter medications, herbal products, and prevention of certain diseases. The new role of pharmacy is of the pharmacist being more patient-focused and offering more clinical services. They step out from behind the counter and discuss medications with patients.  Pharmacy is patient-focused both during training and in practice.

Patients need to ask for the pharmacist and they will come out to speak to them.  Usually the person at the counter is not a pharmacist-he or she may be a technician, cashier, or intern.  You can check the name badge because pharmacists are required to wear one.  It is the pharmacist's responsibility to communicate with all customers. The pharmacist should come out and talk to you.  In fact, they are legally required to talk to patients about new prescriptions or a change in an existing medication-like a new dose.  And, they are required by law to offer the opportunity for patient counseling every time you pick up a medication.  Make sure your pharmacist is doing this.  The form you sign when you pick up your medicine means that you are refusing counseling, but don't be afraid to ask why you are signing before you do.  By providing patient education and counseling, the pharmacist is able to help you more than just handing you your medicine.

Q: What are some challenges in developing a relationship with a pharmacist and how can you get past them?

A: Pharmacists have a lot of great information to share with patients.  However, it may be hard for you to talk to your pharmacists at times because the pharmacy might be super busy when you go there.  I would advise people in Harlem not to give up on getting more information and help from a pharmacist if their pharmacy is busy when they go there.  Some other ways to get information include:

  • Asking the pharmacist if there is a better time to come back 
  • Asking the pharmacist their number and call them
  • Going to a website that they can tell you for the information you need

If you are really uncomfortable or unhappy with your pharmacist, there is nothing wrong with changing pharmacies.  It's good to stay with one pharmacy since you want to make sure your pharmacist has a record of all the medications you are taking, but if you are not happy, you can transfer the prescription, just like you can change doctors.

Q: What other suggestions do you have for customers when working with pharmacists?

A: It's important to be patient and calm with a pharmacist while waiting for them at a busy drugstore.  Being a pharmacist can be very stressful at times.  I would also say be persistent and keep trying to talk to a pharmacist if you don't succeed the first time.  Finally, if you ask your pharmacist something and don't understand their answer, don't just back off, continue asking until you understand-be confident. The role of the pharmacist is to really help you out.  Their job is to speak with you, counsel you, and assist you with many things relating to medicines and health questions. The pharmacist is there to provide counseling and education to customers.  If they don't have the knowledge, they are trained as health care professionals and should be able to get the information needed to answer your questions.  Be sure to ask them to look up the information and explain it to you.

Read more from Dr. Tahir by clicking the links below:

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