7 questions pharmacists want people to ask them

Most people go to the pharmacy as a quick errand, to pick up a prescription or everyday drugstore items. But there’s an amazing free resource there that some people never tap: the pharmacist. This person could become one of the most helpful members of a person’s health care team.

Here, learn some reasons why a pharmacist’s input can be valuable. Then find out how to use that knowledge to help get healthier. 

Some facts about pharmacists

People are making a lot of trips to the pharmacy to get prescriptions filled by a pharmacist. But filling prescriptions is only part of a pharmacist’s role. They’re also available to answer any questions people may have about their prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.  

How did pharmacists get so knowledgeable? To become one, a person typically must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.). That usually takes 4 years. After that, they need to pass 2 exams and complete a certain number of internship hours to receive a license from their state. They must also meet certain continuing education requirements to maintain their license.1

In other words, pharmacists spend years learning about medications. People can use that knowledge to their advantage. Here are the 7 questions that are great to connect with a pharmacist on.

UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members with prescription drug coverage can download the UnitedHealthcare® app to view drug coverage details and more.

1. What is this medication for?

Some medications treat diseases. Some reduce symptoms. And others help prevent conditions such as stroke and heart disease.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, it's important for providers to ask patients if they understand why they’re taking a medication.2

If a patient hasn’t fully understood after a provider appointment, the pharmacist can also explain in simple terms what is happening in your body and how the medication will work with your body to address the issue, explains Alyssa Wozniak, Pharm.D., B.C.P.S., a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy at D’Youville University in Buffalo, New York.

2. How should I take the medication?

“Use as directed” is the best advice when it comes to prescriptions. Some should be taken at specific times. Others should be taken with food, or before bed, or when the person taking it won’t be driving.

When speaking with patients about their medications, “we provide instructions, such as explaining the dosage and frequency requirements,” says Monica Amin, Pharm.D., a pharmacist with Marley Drug in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “We educate patients on the correct usage of their medications, demonstrating techniques like shaking an inhaler before each use, then placing their lips around the mouthpiece and inhaling deeply upon pressing down the canister.”

3. Are there any side effects I should know about?

Prescription drug packages are required to list potential side effects; in some cases, drug advertisements are allowed to list only the biggest risks.3 The FDA also requires most over-the-counter medications to list warnings, including potential side effects (though this does not apply to dietary supplements).4, 5 These lists might raise some questions.

“That’s where the pharmacist comes in. They can easily tell you which side effects are common that you should watch out for, and then summarize some rare, more serious side effects, with instructions on what to do if they happen,” says Wozniak. “The pharmacist will often ask questions to gauge how you feel about the side effects, in the hopes that you come away from the conversation completely comfortable with taking a medication.”

4. What are the goals of taking the medication?

Providers usually explain the purpose of taking a medication when they prescribe it. A pharmacist is an additional resource if a person has additional questions about how the medication works. 

If a provider prescribes metformin for diabetes, for example, a pharmacist can explain how the drug works to treat type 2 diabetes, or how long a person might expect to take it.6

The pharmacist can help tailor this discussion to the person, potentially providing them with short-term targets so that they can meet their goal over time, explains Amin. “This may seem more accomplishable to a patient,” she says.

5. How soon can I expect results from this medication?

Some medications may not have any noticeable effect at first. For example, it can take 4 to 8 weeks for an antidepressant to show results.7

A pharmacist can discuss this information at the counter. That way, people will know how long it might take for the medication to start working.

“We make sure to convey that optimal outcomes often require patience over a period of a few weeks or more,” says Amin. “When patients have a solid understanding of how a medication works and the expected outcomes, they are more inclined to adhere to the prescribed treatment plan.”

6. What more can I do to manage my condition?

Most people don’t realize that pharmacists can offer more than just medication information. Often, they can suggest additional ways to help manage a condition in addition to taking the prescribed medication.

A pharmacist can talk through some of the lifestyle changes a person might want to make to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol, for instance. And they might be able to suggest some resources, such as heart-healthy cooking classes.

“Pharmacists typically know exactly who can best help the patient, such as a dietitian in their local community, for example, and can provide the patient with their contact information or assist in making the connection,” says Wozniak.

7. What is the most affordable option for filling the prescription?

Step on: Make sure to use a pharmacy in the insurance plan’s preferred network. Then, a person can check which network pharmacy offers the prescription at the lowest price. If a person is still having trouble affording a medication, a pharmacist can see if the person’s plan covers any generic versions of a medication, which may cost less.

Building a relationship with a local pharmacist can provide people with a resource for information about medications and other ways to help manage health conditions. Just head to the pharmacy counter and start a conversation.

Did you know that different pharmacies offer different prices on prescription medications? Already a Medicare Advantage member with prescription drug coverage? Sign into your plan website to help find ways to lower the cost of medications.

Already a UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage member?

Managing medications is important to overall health. Have prescription drug coverage? Review benefits and find ways to help lower medication costs.