Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Here are ways your pharmacist can help manage your health care

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says pharmacists are 'unsung heroes of the health system' who can fill in the gaps in health care for people with or without a family doctor.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says pharmacists are 'unsung heroes of the health system'

Pharmacists can do a lot more than count pills and hand them over. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

While efforts to chip away at the doctor shortage problem in Nova Scotia continue, thousands remain on a wait-list for a family physician and are without a medical professional to help manage their health care.

Not having a family doctor means it takes extra effort to get a prescription. You can run out of medication while waiting for an appointment, or misunderstand the effects of a drug.

But by consulting a pharmacist, many of these problems can be avoided, Mary Jane Hampton told CBC's Information Morning. Pharmacists can do a lot more than count pills and hand them over.

"Expand your circle of care and to look at other professionals who may have the skill, the competence, and the scope of practice to give you what you need," said Hampton.

"Community pharmacists may well be the most overlooked asset in that potential circle of care because there is so much that they can do and there's no wait to get in to see them. And there is no out-of-pocket cost associated with getting advice from them."

Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton. (Robert Short/CBC)

Pharmacists are qualified to:

  • Diagnose common and simple ailments
  • Prescribe medications
  • Renew prescriptions 
  • Give a six-month prescription renewal (before Feb. 1 it was only for a maximum of 90 days)
  • Give flu shots
  • Give vaccinations you might need if you are travelling.
  • Tell you about possible shortages of specific drugs in advance

"Pharmacists are the medication experts in the health system and often know far more than doctors about side effects, how different drugs interact with one another, and even which is the best drug for your condition if there are several to choose from," said Hampton.

She recommends taking all your current medications to a pharmacist, who can tell if there's likely any bad interactions between them or any over-the-counter drugs you might be taking. This is especially important for seniors since 25 per cent of people over the age of 65 in Nova Scotia are taking 10 or more prescriptions.

"That is a whack of medical medicine cocktail that starts to get complicated," Hampton said. "A pharmacist can often have more time to explain to you what all the different drugs that you're taking, some of which you may have been taking for years and have forgotten why you're taking them. They can counsel you through that in a way that is somewhat more relaxed than a brief encounter in the doctor's office.

"The pharmacist really can be more than just a last-minute lifeline. They can be they can be part of that long-term planning process."

Get personal

Hampton suggested that having a direct connection with a pharmacist at a single location is also a good idea. Keeping track of medications isn't the reason — computers and drug information systems will do that well enough. But a relationship with a pharmacist is as important as the one you have with a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

"They will have a scope of knowledge about medication but also about you over time that really helps to manage your own care plan, so find a pharmacist that you like and stick with them," said Hampton. "They are unsung heroes of the health system."

With files from Information Morning


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