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Talking to the Pharmacist

If your child is sick, you'll probably have many questions to ask your doctor. But have you made a list of questions and concerns to share with your pharmacist?

If you're like most parents, the answer is probably "very few" or "none." But today's pharmacists are trained to provide valuable information about the prescriptions they fill and to answer questions that affect the patients they serve.

To encourage questions from their customers, many pharmacies provide counseling rooms where pharmacists can talk to patients and families privately.

Reasons to Talk to the Pharmacist

Pharmacists cannot diagnose medical conditions but can answer many questions about medicines, recommend nonprescription drugs, and discuss side effects of specific medications. And some also can provide blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring and offer advice on home monitoring tests.

Most pharmacists who graduated in the 1980s received 5-year bachelor's degrees. Recently, it has become popular for pharmacists to receive a doctor of pharmacy degree. This 6- to 8-year-program requires pharmacists in training to go on hospital rounds with doctors and be there when decisions are made to begin drug use. These skills are particularly useful for pharmacists who operate within hospital settings.

Pharmacists are required to stay up-to-date on the changing world of medicine and to take continuing education classes on drug therapy. (Requirements can vary from state to state.)

Starting the Conversation

Many pharmacies have private counseling areas where you talk without interruption. Some pharmacists also accept questions over the telephone. And if you ask, almost all pharmacies will provide you with detailed literature about a particular medication.

It's never too late to ask your pharmacist a question. Even if you don't think of one until after you get home, you can still call the pharmacist for advice. That's part of his or her job.

Questions to Ask

A typical question parents have is about allergic reactions. First and foremost, make sure that your pharmacist knows exactly what allergies your child has and what medications your child is already taking. This will help the pharmacist protect against possible drug interactions that could be harmful.

Once you have received the medication, always look at it carefully before you leave the pharmacy. Read the instructions to be sure you understand how to give it to your child. Even if the medication is a refill, check to make sure the drug is the same size, color, and shape that you are used to receiving. If anything doesn't look right, ask.

Consider the following additional questions for your pharmacist:

Common Problems With Childhood Medications

Some parents may forget to have their children finish a prescription. If the medication (for example, a pain medication) is to be taken "as needed for symptoms," you don't need to finish the entire prescription within a set number of days. But with prescriptions like antibiotics, the medication must be finished for it to be effective.

Throw away any old prescriptions. If your child doesn't finish a medication, don't save it for a future illness because most drugs lose their potency after a year. Do not use after the expiration date and talk with your doctor before giving old prescriptions to your child.

Another common problem is the sharing of medications between siblings. Pharmacists and doctors recommend that no one take a drug prescribed for anyone else or offer prescription drugs to another person, no matter how similar the symptoms or complaints.

Tips From the Pharmacist

Pharmacists offer the following advice:

How to Choose a Pharmacist

It's important to establish a relationship with one pharmacy so that your pharmacist has a complete history of your family's prescribed medications. A pharmacist is an important resource when it comes to making sure your child is getting the right medicine.

If you move, you might want to consider staying within the same chain of pharmacy stores to ensure that your patient profiles and records are available in a common computer database. Or you could request that your most recent pharmacist give you a copy of your family's patient profiles and pharmaceutical history to take with you to share with your new pharmacist.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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