While Canadians see physicians as trusted sources of information, they should know that pharmacists can also provide advice, offer lifestyle modification tips, and support and guidance on getting the most out of their medication. Patients can reap multiple benefits from pharmacists’ expertise and wealth of knowledge.

Getting to know your pharmacist

The next time you visit your pharmacy, don’t just grab your meds and go. Talk to your pharmacist about your health. You’ll be surprised by what you can learn.

James Ng, a pharmacist and owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart on West Broadway in Vancouver, recalls a conversation he had with one customer. “He initially asked me for medicine that would treat his recurring headaches,” Ng says. “I began to ask him questions about why they were occurring. I suggested that we test his blood pressure with the machine we have available in the store. It turned out that his blood pressure was skyrocketing, which explained his headaches. I recommended that he see his doctor right away.” 

“Looking at a patient’s total health profile is something pharmacists can do. More than just addressing symptoms, proper healthcare is about looking at underlying conditions and future prevention.”

High blood pressure is a key risk factor in cardiovascular disease, so it was a potentially life-saving exchange. Many patients don’t realize that with a minimum of five years in university studying everything from anatomy to pathology, pharmacists have a vast, solid foundation of knowledge, making them invaluable sources of guidance and information.

Focusing on prevention

 “Patients are now realizing that we don’t just count pills. We can offer a great deal of support and advice - not just on potential drug interactions, but on things like diet and exercise recommendations, too. We focus on treatment, but also on the prevention of diseases and that’s first and foremost”, says Ng.  

Ng offers a couple of tips for warding off cardiovascular disease. Exercise is a very effective tool, just half an hour of activity – anything that gets your heart pumping – three times a week is a good place to start. Ng also notes how patients’ reliance on high-fat and low nutrition fast food is detrimental to health. Since hunger and being short on time can lead to bad food choices, Ng recommends that patients plan their meals ahead. “Even small changes in lifestyle can go a long way,” he says.

Pharmacists are there to offer support and pragmatic tips. And, while it can sometimes take time to see a physician, pharmacists are often accessible in the evenings and on weekends, and are trusted resources available to help with credible, current information. 

Seeing the big picture

Looking at a patient’s total health profile is something pharmacists can do. More than just addressing symptoms, proper healthcare is about looking at underlying conditions and future prevention. Ng emphasizes the importance of not waiting until symptoms appear before seeking professional input on your overall health. 

Having support for lifestyle changes from your pharmacist for a personal health plan can be a source of inspiration. To work with your pharmacist effectively, Ng advises that it’s important to know some key numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). However, many patients don’t always understand what the numbers mean. “It’s crucial that they understand what’s happening inside their bodies,” he says. “A proactive approach to health really works, so it’s important to know basic information.” 

At many pharmacies, blood pressure and blood sugar testing can be done right onsite. Pharmacists will review the data from logbooks offered to patients to keep track of their blood pressure readings and can discuss results. This helps identify risk factors, an important measure in disease prevention.