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Another Voice: Pharmacists are an integral part of health teams

By Brian Kersten

Pharmacists are consistently rated among the most honest and ethical professionals in the United States. This reputation is built on the hard work and dedication of community pharmacists, often seen in local chain and independent pharmacies.

Since Oct. 15 to 21 is National Pharmacy Week, I would like to highlight the function of pharmacists in a different setting: the health system. Pharmacists in health systems are mostly concentrated in the hospital environment. However, many individuals may not even realize pharmacists play an integral role in rehabilitation centers, nursing facilities and ambulatory care clinics, as well as the hospital.

Historically, the role of the hospital pharmacist has been similar to the community pharmacist: fill a medication order accurately and ensure it won’t cause harm prior to its delivery to the bedside for nursing administration. This still holds true today, especially with a continuous stream of new and complex medication therapies.

But many pharmacists’ responsibilities have evolved to provide more direct patient care due to several factors. Over the last decade, improved technologies, advanced post-graduation training and an increased role of pharmacy technicians has allowed pharmacists to move out of a central dispensing pharmacy to see patients on hospital floors. And who better to do this than the medication experts?

Pharmacists have become an integral part of multidisciplinary teams that include physicians, nurses and dietitians, among others. They are able to review medical records, check pertinent laboratory values and interview patients under their care. Being actively involved in decisions surrounding medications capitalizes on the expertise pharmacists have for identifying the safe and effective use of drugs.

Two of the biggest challenges that I (and other hospital pharmacists) encounter on a daily basis center around medication safety – that is, avoiding patient harm associated with drug use. The first issue is to determine treatment options when evidence from medical literature is lacking. There are so many variables in medicine that it is impossible to have all the answers. It is therefore necessary to provide treatment while weighing all potential benefits and risks.

The second problem is preventable, but all too common. Patients and family members do not know what medications are prescribed and how they are taking them before coming to the hospital.
The repercussions of incomplete or inaccurate home medication lists can result in serious drug interactions, side effects from new medications and duplication of treatment approaches.
As a health system pharmacist, the best advice I can give if you or a loved one is unfortunately hospitalized is this: Arrive at the hospital with an accurate list of home medications.

Discussing this with your hospital pharmacist could mean the difference between serious complications or a quick stay.

Brian Kersten, PharmD, BCCCP, BCPS, is president of the Western New York Society of Health-systems Pharmacists.

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