by Linda Caddick, Registered Pharmacist 

One important thing you can do to improve your health is to have a good support team around you. An easily accessible member of your health team is your pharmacist. Your pharmacist is keen to ensure you make the most of your health and get the best out of any medicines prescribed to you. A pharmacist will also advise on medicines you purchase in the pharmacy. Pharmacists are the medicine experts. For many people, they are the healthcare professionals you see most often. You can usually talk to your pharmacist without an appointment and for free, but only about medicines you get from that pharmacy.  

Always use the same pharmacy. Pharmacists can only see the prescriptions you bring to their pharmacy. This is why always using the same pharmacy whenever possible is so important. If you move house or doctor and want to change pharmacies, then once you have settled on a pharmacy, try to get all of your prescriptions from the same pharmacy year after year. This way, when they receive any new prescriptions for you, they will automatically check your new medicines against your prescription history from that pharmacy plus any medicine allergies you have reported to them. They cannot see prescriptions you received from other pharmacies. They do not know about an allergy you reported to your GP, hospital or another pharmacy. Due to our privacy laws, each pharmacy maintains its own database of what you get from them. Keep them informed of any new allergies or medicine changes. You can then purchase medicines in the shop and ask the pharmacist to check them against your prescription history.  

Prescriptions from different health professionals. It is not uncommon for someone to have prescriptions many different health professionals, such as your GP, rheumatologist, dentist, skin specialist, eye specialist and maybe another specialist, or a hospital discharge prescription after an operation or an accident. Sometimes, there are conflicts between what one health professional prescribes to another, and maybe a hospital discharge script is for a different strength than the usual script from the GP. The pharmacist will phone the latest prescriber and sort out any queries. The pharmacist might talk to you and check that any dose changes were what you were expecting. 

Please note that hospital discharge prescriptions and hospital discharge notes often differ from one another. If you have discharge notes, it is good to hand both the notes and the prescription to the pharmacist. That way, the pharmacist can work out any discrepancies before they dispense your medicine. 

“I had a call from a woman one day who had been prescribed diclofenac for a sore back and had at home a different anti-inflammatory (naproxen) prescribed a year ago for period pain. When she got a headache, she was about to take Nurofen (a third anti-inflammatory), then decided she should phone and ask her pharmacist first. If she had taken all three it would have caused an overdose of anti-inflammatories, which could make a person feel sick, get a stomach ulcer or damage their kidneys,” says Linda Caddick.

Pharmacists are part of your healthcare team. They spend a lot of time each day on the telephone talking to prescribers about the medicines and potential interactions, side effects, and doses. They can check with your specialist if you have a query between appointments about whether to take this “as well as” or “instead of” what the GP prescribed. The pharmacist can also let you know when the special number required to fund some medicines is about to expire. Pharmacists have access to the PHARMAC funding criteria for medicines. They are up to date with all the rule changes and can let you know if your medicine is about to change brands. 

If you are not sure, check with your pharmacist. If you are unsure about anything to do with your medicines, always check with your pharmacist. If you have a medication query, do ask to speak to the pharmacist and not assume someone is (or is not) a pharmacist. Never feel you are intruding. Even when the pharmacist is busy, most enjoy talking to people one-on-one about their medicines. This is what they trained for. People don’t become healthcare professionals if they aren’t interested in helping people achieve the best possible health outcomes. 

Your pharmacist, the medicine expert, is an essential member of your healthcare team. 

More information about your health team:

Who is in your arthritis health team? Arthritis New Zealand

How to talk to your health team – community pharmacist – YouTube

Who is in your health team ( – Factsheet


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