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Choosing a new pharmacy - what should I look for before making my choice?

April 24, 2018

I moved to a new city and need to choose a new pharmacy for my family’s medication needs. What should I look for before making my choice?

Excellent question! A few decades ago I could have easily answered it with just a few bullet points, such as:

  • Convenience – location and hours of operation
  • Customer service – courtesy and friendliness of the staff
  • Speed of dispensing – time it takes to process and dispense the prescription
  • Accuracy – prescription dispensed exactly as ordered by the prescriber

Surveys have shown that the vast majority of patients considered convenience as the number one reason for choosing their pharmacy. Customer service and speed of dispensing were the second and third factors. Interestingly, accuracy was fourth in the main reasons given for selecting a pharmacy. In my experience, only patients involved in a medication “incident” (which, fortunately, very rarely reach the patient) think of accuracy as something to consider.

But all this is changing…

Today’s savvy patients/consumers recognize that the scope of practice for pharmacists is expanding and resulting in other and arguably more important considerations when choosing a pharmacy. That’s not to say that convenience and access aren’t important – all other things being equal, a more conveniently located pharmacy with better business hours gives you greater access to your pharmacist, which is definitely important. But access alone will have little to no impact in helping you achieve your health or disease management goals.

While pharmacists today are often still responsible for ensuring accuracy in dispensing, that task is now more in line with the role of registered pharmacy technicians. Instead the pharmacist should be ensuring that the medication prescribed by your doctor is in fact the most appropriate treatment for you.

So, before you settle on a pharmacy, let’s examine some crucial factors to consider...

A holistic approach. Any practicing pharmacist, old school and new school alike, will be able to provide you with over-the-counter and prescription drug information, including reason for use, mode of administration, drug interactions, side-effects, etc. But their new expanded scope of service has shifted the focus away from just drug products and towards the patient as a whole – that means you, your disease states, your medication, and all other factors that will impact the success of your treatment.

Personalized service. A pharmacist who has embraced this new expanded role will not only offer a variety of comprehensive professional services to help you manage your condition, but will also tailor which specific services are offered to you based on your unique health needs. This approach makes it evident that the services are not being offered for revenue generating purposes in the pharmacy – just pushing prescriptions through the system – but to help you achieve your individual health goals.

Referrals and recommendations. New era pharmacists are also well versed in the resources available in your community and will not hesitate to make a referral based on your needs. These pharmacists recognize where their scope ends and another health care professional’s scope begins. But rather than simply telling you, “that’s not within my scope,” they will go the extra mile and connect you with someone else or at least point you in the right direction.

A partner in your health. A good pharmacist will take an active role in helping you and your doctor manage your illness, which includes meeting regularly with you and reviewing your full list of active medications to address any drug therapy problems and ensure that:

  • All your medications have a purpose (i.e., you’re not continuing to take a medication for a condition that has been resolved)
  • Your active medical conditions are being managed (e.g., you have asthma but you’re not on any asthma medication)
  • There are no conflicts between your various medications (i.e. drug interactions)
  • All your medications are dosed appropriately to ensure maximum efficacy and minimal risk of side-effects

If any of these potential drug therapy problems is identified, your pharmacist should immediately reach out to your physician to discuss the best option for you.

Customer service is still important. You still need to have a certain rapport with your pharmacist – you want to feel respected and valued as a patient. You need to feel comfortable reaching out with questions and feeling that you’re being heard. Too often I see pharmacy staff who avoid eye contact with patients and don’t acknowledge them. I think that even during very busy times at a store, a pharmacist should acknowledge you as soon as you arrive at the counter and let you know they’ll be with you shortly. 

Bottom line? To tell whether a pharmacist is embracing the new expanded role or still practising in the “pill-mill” era, pay attention to how they engage with you and other patients. If you can, visit several pharmacies in your area and check them out. The right choice for you and your family will soon become clear.