Each year countless new medications and medical products are placed on the market. Both patients and physicians expect pharmacists to be knowledgeable about them. That’s a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility but US pharmacists appear to be meeting our expectations. We trust them. Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals and know more about medications, prescription and over-the-counter, then any other member of the health care team. In 1998, for the 10th consecutive year, America’s pharmacists topped the Gallup Poll list of businessmen and professionals for their “honesty and ethical standards.” In the 2004 poll, pharmacists came in second, just behind nurses but ahead of physicians, police officers, judges and even clergy members – which begs the question, why?
The best possible explanation is that pharmacists play a vital role in the healthcare system through the medicine and information they provide. The bottom line is that pharmacists help patients get well. A pharmacist’s responsibilities include a range of care for patients, from dispensing drugs to monitoring patient health and progress to maximizing the response to specific medications. Pharmacists also educate consumers and patients on the use of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and advise physicians, nurses and other health professionals on drug decisions. The pharmacist practicing today provides a much broader range of services than was offered even ten years ago. The profession has embraced the concept of pharmaceutical care which extends the pharmacist’s role to providing medication therapy that continues through to the goal of improved patient outcomes. Pharmacists are involved in improving the quality of the drug use process and identifying ways to reduce medication errors, reducing costs and improving outcomes. Whether or not the current health reform efforts succeed, they have brought into sharp focus the severity of two issues: the spiraling cost of healthcare and the substantial unmet need for care. A solution may be as close as the corner drugstore; pharmacies are uniquely positioned to help meet two goals of reform – providing convenient, expanded access to medical care and controlling costs.
There are some 10,000 drugs available on the market today. It seems that as soon as one TV commercial airs for the next pharmaceutical panacea, another airs for a law firm suing manufacturers for “bad drugs.” As medications become increasingly complex and diverse we look to our neighborhood pharmacists for clarity. Because of their ever-expanding role as drug experts, counselors and watch dogs, consumers can find some help navigating their way through the healthcare maze.