Pharmacists do more than fill medicine bottles

Greater expectations

Twenty years ago, if customers at a local drugstore asked a pharmacist about a prescription or an illness, the most common response would be to go ask their doctor. But today, pharmacists are doing a lot to step up their role, says David Roffman, PharmD, BCPS, associate professor at University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy in Baltimore.

As doctors have less time to spend on educating their patients, more pharmacists are being called upon to answer basic questions about diseases like congestive heart failure and what particular medications can do to help.

"Patients have to understand all facets of their condition and how their medicine relates to it," says Hildegarde J. Berdine, PharmD, clinical assistant professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. "This is a definite niche where the clinical pharmacist can help."

The changing role has affected both the training and esteem the profession receives, Roffman says. As a whole, the pharmacy industry is moving toward making a doctorate the standard degree. And as far as public image goes, pharmacists have won a lot of trust from patients.

"We’re training our professionals to be a lot more industry-focused," says Roffman, who is a therapeutic consultant for the cardiac care unit in the University of Maryland’s Medical System.

"I see patients," he says, "not to practice, to triage." When he needs to talk to a doctor about a case, Hoffman walks around the corner and finds the attending physician. He knows other PharmDs who run clinics for lipid studies, diabetic treatment and private practices in similar ways. On the job, pharmacists take blood pressure and note symptoms like shortness of breath. "That’s where the practice is going — away from just dispensing drugs," he says. Gradually, technicians will one day fill prescriptions under pharmacist supervision. This will free the pharmacist, just like support staff is doing for the doctor’s practice, today, he notes.