What can and can’t a pharmacist do?

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Pharmacies aren’t just places to pick up prescriptions and painkillers, although those may constitute 90% of the reasons you visit. Your local pharmacy can actually offer quite a wide range of health services for free or at a low cost, to save you the hassle of a trip to the doctor for things that pharmacists are perfectly well trained to do.

Each pharmacy is different, so your local store may not offer everything on this list. If you’re getting older or have chronic health issues, it can be a good idea to get acquainted with what kind of services you can get from your local chemist. Below are some of the useful things you can ask your pharmacist to help you with.

What a pharmacist can do

A pharmacist can:

  • Perform emergency first aid. In most states, a pharmacy must have on site at all times a pharmacist qualified in first aid and mental health first aid.
  • Assess and treat minor ailments that do not require a doctor. Pharmacies aim to ensure that staff is trained to the standards of Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. This allows them to make appropriate recommendations.
  • Dispense medications:
    • Dispense medication with a prescription from a doctor.
    • Dispense repeats of prescription medications with a repeat authorisation from a doctor or the previous pharmacy where you for the script filled.
  • Preform medication reviews. People with multiple health problems often find themselves seeing several doctors and health professionals. A pharmacist can review all your medications to make sure they all work together.
  • Provide one-on-one Counselling. Whether at the counter or a private consultation area, a pharmacist is able to consult with you about how to effectively use prescribed medications as well as advice for any situation you are trying to solve.
  • Administer medications:
    • Give flu shots – available across all Australian states. It costs as little as $10.99 from Chemist Warehouse and some people are even eligible to get it for free (at the GP only).
  • Preform screen tests and other tests:
    • Test your blood sugar (blood glucose)
    • Test your blood clotting for INR monitoring
    • Test your blood pressure
    • Test your hearing
    • Test your cholesterol levels
    • Test for bowel cancer
    • Test for atrial fibrillation (a leading cause of strokes)
    • Test your weight
  • Provide a variety of services including:
    • Smoking cessation advice
    • Weight and cholesterol management
    • Deliver medication to your door. Sometimes you are unable to get to your local pharmacy so certain pharmacies provide local medication delivery services.
    • Organise prescription reminders to ensure you do not run out of your medication.
  • Teaching:
    • Teach you how to use your at-home medical devices such as asthma inhalers, diabetes blood test kits and air humidifiers.
    • Teach you exercises to do at home to manager your pain incontinence, or other health issues.
  • Advice regarding medication and lifestyle needs:
    • Explain your medications to you: what the medication you have been prescribed means, how it works, how to take it, how long it will take to feel different, possible side effects, why you should finish the course of medication, alternative brands and non-prescription medication alternatives.
    • Give advice and supply non-prescription medicine according to your symptoms.
    • Perform a medicine review or at-home medicine review (HMR) to discuss your medication routine and any possible changes.
    • Give advice on all pregnancy- and baby-related issues.
    • Give advice on managing menopause.
    • Give advice on everything from pain management to oral dental hygiene, avoiding STDs to eye care.
    • Give advice on travelling: how to transport your medications and what vaccinations or anti-malarial medicines you will need when travelling overseas.
  • Dispose of expired medications safely for you. Did you know that you shouldn’t just put expired medication in the bin or flush them down the drain?
  • Give a medical certificate for your school or workplace (certain pharmacies only, including some Blooms The Chemist pharmacies).
  • Provide a range of mobility and daily life aids including walking sticks and pill crushers.

What a pharmacist cannot do

  • A pharmacist cannot “skip the boring explanations” unless they know that you have taken the medication before.
  • A pharmacist cannot make your doctor pick up the phone and talk to them.
    • You’ve seen doctors’ handwriting, and there are often things on a script that need checking or confirming. Even confirming whether the patient can receive a different strength of a tablet needs a doctor’s “okay”. But if the pharmacist can’t get them on the phone, they cannot legally dispense the medication to you. It’s frustrating, but it would be breaking the law for them to go ahead without the doctor’s green light.
  • A pharmacist cannot change your health insurance company’s mind.
    • Some health insurance companies are picky about which medications they will and won’t cover, and it frustrates your pharmacist as much as you.

And here’s the big one…

  • A pharmacist in Australia cannot prescribe medications.
    • Why not, you might be asking? An Australian study has found more than 80% satisfaction rates with pharmacist prescribing systems.
    • Pharmacists study for 4-6 years, complete a 48 week internship, and must pass the Pharmacy Board of Australia examination before they are qualified and legally registered to dispense medications. A Canstar Blue survey found that 94% of Australians trust the advice of their pharmacist.
    • In the UK, pharmacists are allowed to prescribe and dispense medications, and studies show nearly 13% of scripts are written by pharmacists, not GPs, with an error rate of less than 0.5%.

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