Chances are you’ve seen a variety of medical specialists throughout your life. Along with receiving routine care from a dentist and potentially a gynaecologist, you may have visited ophthalmologists, allergists, chiropractors, and more. But there’s another type of medical specialist you may want to have on your care team: a clinical pharmacist. Never heard of one?
We’ll guide you through the essentials of clinical pharmacists, what they do, and how they may be able to optimize your health.
Table of Contents
What Is A Clinical Pharmacist?
Clinical pharmacists collaborate directly with patients and physicians to determine the ideal treatment plan for each patient. You can consider them as the medication expert on your care team. Your doctor is the expert in the anatomy and physiology of your body. Together, they can put together a customized care plan for you.
In many cases, clinical pharmacists have appointments with patients. They can counsel you one-on-one and may use tests to monitor how your medications are working.
Retail Pharmacist vs Clinical Pharmacist
For starters, let’s define “pharmacist.” A pharmacist is a medical professional who has a doctorate degree in pharmacology. While pharmacists don’t use “Doctor” in front of their name, they do have PharmD degrees specializing in medications and how they affect the body. When people think of pharmacists, they usually think of retail pharmacists. After all, these are the pharmacists they see most often.
While retail pharmacists review and verify prescriptions and may answer questions for patients and doctors, they have little involvement in a patient’s care. A clinical pharmacist, on the other hand, has a much more direct role in determining a patient’s care. They serve as a medication expert who collaborates with the doctor. This type of pharmacist generally works in a healthcare setting like a physician’s practice, healthcare clinic, or hospital.
Some clinical pharmacists manage other pharmacists, and many specialize in a specific treatment setting like the ICU.
What Does A Clinical Pharmacist Do?
A clinical pharmacist helps design care plans for patients. But what do they do on a daily basis? Every clinical pharmacist’s role can vary based on their area of expertise and the medical setting where they work. These professionals’ jobs typically include:
- Assessing each patient’s health status and care objectives
- Evaluating the appropriateness and effectiveness of medications and dosages
- Consulting with a patient’s care team to customize their medication therapy
- Informing a patient’s care team and educating the patient on how to properly take the medications and the side effects to expect
- Tracking patients’ progress
- Identifying untreated or mismanaged conditions that could be treated with medication or referrals
This is a general list, and each circumstance is different. When you begin working with a clinical pharmacist, they can explain to you the role they’ll play in your care team.
How Does a Clinical Pharmacist Treat Patients?
A clinical pharmacist treats patients by looking at their health and needs from the perspective of medicinal treatments. These pharmacists have the expertise to evaluate specific health metrics for each patient. This could include your blood sugar, blood pressure, and more. They also consider your medical history and current needs to develop a custom treatment plan.
They may meet with you directly to discuss your medications, or they may primarily communicate with your doctor.
Who Can Benefit from A Clinical Pharmacist?
Physicians have abundant knowledge about the human body, especially in their area of expertise, but no one can know everything. Pharmacists are the experts in medications, so anyone who needs medication can benefit from a clinical pharmacist. However, there are some circumstances when they’re particularly helpful.
People with Chronic Health Conditions
Chronic health conditions require continuous monitoring and management. This is especially true for illnesses that tend to change or worsen over time. For example, if you have a chronic condition like cancer, a blood clotting disorder, diabetes, or an autoimmune disorder, a clinical pharmacist can be a tremendous ally. They can monitor your condition along with your doctor to see if and when to change your medications.
They can also track your side effects to see if their current management approach is working well. If you need an alternative, they can find it.
People with Complicated Medical Profiles
Medicine isn’t always as simple as, “If a patient has this condition, give them this medication.” Your body is an incredibly intricate ecosystem, and there is no limit to the ways that one person’s health can vary from another’s. A clinical pharmacist can evaluate those nuances and find a plan that works for you. One example of this is when a patient has multiple conditions that are tricky to treat together.
For example, you might have a condition that is normally treated with a certain medication—we’ll call it Drug A. But what if you have another health condition that is known to worsen if you take Drug A? These medication specialists can look at situations like these and find the best solution that suits all your needs.
People with a History of Treatment Challenges
Just as each person’s unique physiology means that they could have a complicated combination of conditions, it also means that not every treatment works the same for every person. For instance, you might be allergic to a medication that is usually prescribed for your condition. Perhaps your body hasn’t responded to the traditional medication that treats your condition in the past.
Or maybe there are medications you can’t take because of a substance abuse disorder. Whatever the case may be, a clinical pharmacist can find the best treatment that takes your complex medical history into account.
Benefits of Having A Clinical Pharmacist on Your Healthcare Team
Whether or not one of the complicated circumstances above applies to you and your health, it’s often beneficial to have a clinical pharmacist on your care team. Consider these advantages, especially if you use long-term maintenance medications.
1. Individualized Care
In most medical cases, you have your physician who has thoroughly evaluated your individual health and a pharmacist who fills the doctor’s prescriptions. Both of those professionals have their areas of expertise, but they don’t have the chance to put their heads together for your benefit. A clinical pharmacist, on the other hand, merges those specialties together.
You know that your treatment is being guided by someone who has both a detailed view of your health and expertise in medications.
2. Ongoing Health Management
You’re likely to have routine check-ups with your clinical pharmacist to monitor your health conditions. This allows you to make sure your medications are ideally suited to your current health. Ongoing care also puts your mind at ease knowing that a specialist is keeping an eye on the situation and can guide you as needed.
This can be much more comfortable than feeling responsible for knowing what side effects are and aren’t normal and deciding when to call for a medication adjustment.
3. A Unified Care Plan
One of the top contributors to long-term health is having a care team that communicates and is on the same page about your needs. If you’ve ever been in a situation of bouncing back and forth between different doctors who disagree about your care, you know how frustrating it is. It’s a drain on your time, stress level, and finances.
A clinical pharmacist can collaborate with your doctor directly so you don’t have to be the messenger or figure out who to listen to. You don’t need to worry about whether your doctor is prescribing medications that may not work well with medications another doctor has prescribed. You also don’t need to wonder whether your prescribed medications are unsuited to your medical history.
Your clinical pharmacist takes all of this into consideration.
Should You Be Seeing A Clinical Pharmacist?
So, here’s the big question: should you add a clinical pharmacist to your care team? This is a decision you can make alongside your doctor. If your doctor hasn’t recommended a clinical pharmacist, but you believe the benefits may help you manage your health, ask your doctor about it at your next visit.
How to Find a Canadian Clinical Pharmacist
Finding a clinical pharmacist isn’t the same as visiting your local retail pharmacy because they’re embedded in the facility where they practice. If you feel you want more direct help monitoring and managing medications, ask your doctor or someone else on your care team about a referral.
In many cases, your doctor might have a clinical pharmacist within their practice or hospital, or they may have worked with one in the past that they trust. For further help, you can also reach out to SRx for advocacy and support.
Building A Road to Better Health with A Clinical Pharmacist
A clinical pharmacist can be a fantastic asset to help you and your care team manage your health today and for the long term, especially if you have multiple chronic conditions or a complicated medical history. Talk to your doctor about this option and whether it could benefit you.
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