Be in the Know: The Importance of Pharmacist Counseling

Be in the Know: The Importance of Pharmacist Counseling

Chances are you’ve taken, or may sometime soon take, a prescription drug . Sixty percent of Americans take at least one, and 15 percent take five or more. It may be tempting to tune out when your pharmacist counsels you about your medications, but those few minutes could save your life.

Approximately 1 million Americans are injured from medication errors in hospitals each year, and many more suffer from medication errors at home. Between 19 and 56 percent of patients make mistakes when they take their prescription drugs, according to a systematic review of studies. Fortunately, most patients are not seriously injured by those mistakes. But medication errors, accidents, and mishaps—all of which can have grave consequences—are often preventable. Thus, it’s important to minimize the risk as much as possible. The good news: Your pharmacist can help.

Forty-eight states require pharmacists to give patients oral instructions about medications. Studies suggest pharmaceutical counseling improves patients’ understanding of medicines and has the potential to lower the risk of medication errors from all causes. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of pharmaceutical counseling and discover how to get the most out of your next talk with the pharmacist.

Be in the Know: The Importance of Pharmacist Counseling

Fewer Doctor-Caused Errors

The minute or two you spend consulting with the pharmacist may seem routine, but it’s actually an important check and balance on the prescription process. According to a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), 70 percent of medication errors occur when a doctor prescribes a medication.

Your pharmacist has vast expertise about drug therapies and access to screening software to check for potential drug interactions. Pharmacists can catch doctors’ mistakes before any harm is done; about 40 percent of the errors in the AHRQ study were caught and corrected at the pharmacy.

Fewer Pharmacist-Caused Errors                                                

However, mistakes can happen at the pharmacy too. Seven percent of medication errors in the AHRQ study happened during the dispensing process. Fortunately, pharmacists often catch their own mistakes while consulting with patients. In a 1997 survey, approximately 83 percent of pharmacist-caused errors were discovered during counseling and corrected before the patient left the pharmacy.

Better Informed Patients

Pharmaceutical counseling gives patients an opportunity to look at a medication and compare the label with the prescription, which is another important check and balance on the process. Patients caught 17 percent of the medication errors in the AHRQ study. Moreover according to a French study, patients also learn how to correctly store and take the drug, which can improve patients’ adherence to their doctors’ instructions.

Take an Active Role at the Pharmacy

Patients are the ones who suffer the consequences of medication errors, which means it’s important to take an active role in your healthcare. Pharmacists often follow a lecture format to inform patients about medications, but an Oregon State University study shows a discussion format is more effective at helping patients understand their prescription drugs.

Get the most out of your talk with the pharmacist by planning ahead. Write down any questions or concerns you have about your drug treatment. If something looks wrong with your prescription, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask questions. And before you leave, make sure you understand what you’re taking and how to take it.

By Abby Quillen

Abby Quillen writes about sustainability, green living, health, business, and other topics. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, YES! Magazine, and dozens of other publications. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her family. Visit her at