Doctors may prescribe them, but no one knows more about your medications than your pharmacist. And as a savvy caregiver you should take advantage of that knowledge. Whether you fill your prescriptions at a local pharmacy or you receive them from a mail order pharmacy, never hesitate to talk to the pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns about the proper use, side-effects or possible interactions a particular drug might have with other medications your loved one is taking. 

That’s why this column is devoted to helping you learn more about your pharmacist and how to get the most from that relationship.

EDUCATION-Pharmacists are better trained than ever. Pharmacy school graduates must have at least two years of regular college courses before they enter the four year pharmacy school program. After those six years they graduate with a PharmD degree. Pharmacy school training is far different than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Because of the huge increase in the number of prescription drugs and their complexity, most pharmacists are being trained to be “medication-use specialists” in addition to their other courses. Such training allows them to serve as your consultant in the use and problems associated with the drugs you or a loved one use. They are also better equipped to consult with you or your loved one’s doctor about the medications he prescribes. 

CONSULTANT-Pharmacists are clearly your best information source about medications. Their training and knowledge about specific drugs and how drugs may interact with each other are invaluable. They also know more about over-the-counter (OTC) drugs than the average doctor, which is important if your loved one is taking both prescription and OTC medications. Recognizing this, federal law requires that pharmacists be available to counsel patients on the prescriptions they fill. And the law also permits him/her to speak to a loved one or caregiver if the person is unable to personally receive the information. 

Beware, however, that studies show most people are not advised of this right. And many pharmacies try to get around this rule by asking you to sign a tiny slip when you pick up a prescription. Read it before you sign. By signing it, you have waived your right to counseling at that time. So if you have any questions do not sign, but instead ask to speak with the pharmacist directly. Of course, feel free to call the pharmacist at any time you have a question.

AVOIDING ERRORS-Medication errors are on the rise in the United States. An error can be as simple as the wrong number of pills in a container to the wrong drug being dispensed. Common problems included doctor’s handwriting being misread by the pharmacist; the wrong drug being dispensed when two different drug names had names that sounded alike; or, simple slip-ups made by an overworked pharmacist. 

To help avoid this type of error, ask your loved one’s doctor to PRINT the name of the dosage of the prescription he is writing on a separate piece of paper for you. Be sure to compare that with the drug handed to you at the pharmacy or that comes to you by mail order. Ask the pharmacist, not the person who takes your money, to double check that this is the right drug and the right dosage.

Pharmacists are becoming more important in this era of medication-based medicine. The more you know about your pharmacist, the better you and your loved one will be.

This is the final installment in our series “The Savvy Caregiver.”

Thank you Charlie Inlander for contributing this educational series. 

If you felt it helped along the way, please give us a little feedback. You can email us from this site or you can go to

We plan to run this again in the future. Meanwhile, any experience that you have had as a caregiver and would like to share, we would love to hear from you.