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What Does the Pharmacist Do?

Pharmacists are drug experts. They evaluate medication orders from prescribers, and once they are satisfied that it is unlikely the patient will experience a drug interaction or a side effect, they dispense the medication, making sure it is the correct formulation for the patient. The dosage formulation refers to whether the medicine is a tablet, capsule, patch that is applied to the skin, an oral solution, or a rectal suppository. If the correct dosage formulation is not dispensed, the patient may not be able to take the medication. Some pharmacists may even "compound" specialty dosage formulations to maximize the patient's ability to adhere to the medication regimen.

Importantly, the pharmacist is constantly screening for "drug-related problems." This includes things such as a patient needing a new medication, discontinuing an unnecessary medication, switching to a better medication, adjusting the dosage up or down, evaluating for potential drug interactions or side effects, and taking steps to maximize the patient's adherence to drug therapy. This includes using the correct dosage formulation as discussed above, and also making sure the patient is able to afford the medication.

Hospice pharmacists are also available to answer drug-related questions raised by patients, families, caregivers, nurses, doctors and all members of the hospice health care team. Pharmacists inform health care providers about new drugs on the market, especially medications that will help relieve pain and other symptoms at end of life.

Bottom line, the pharmacist is the "drug expert." This is an important role in end of life care, because we depend on medications to treat pain and other non-pain symptoms.

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