By Jeremy, an Ex-Christian Scientist group editor/writer.

Other than the doctor’s office and the hospital, the other scary new place for the former Christian Scientist entering the new (to them) world of medical care, is the pharmacy. At some point in their lives, almost everybody who seeks medical care will need to have a prescription filled. Sometimes, it’s just for the short-term or, it’s an on-going prescription or prescriptions for chronic (long-term or persisting) conditions.

In my own experience, I’ve had numerous ‘one-time’ prescriptions for antibiotics, and once or twice for immune-response suppression medication (to reduce allergic reactions); I also have on-going prescriptions for asthma medications (asthma is a chronic condition), and also for allergies. While none of this has been scary for me, at times–especially early on in my experience in dealing with prescription medications, I felt woefully and embarrassingly ignorant of how to administer them, and what they actually did to/for me. This is where your pharmacist can be your best ally and source of information.

The role of the pharmacist

Most people just think of the pharmacist as the person who measures doses and packages up prescribed medications according to doctors’ prescriptions. While this is a central role that they fill, they are also much more; and what a pharmacist can do does vary by jurisdiction, so some of what I relate here may not be applicable to where you live. Talk to a pharmacist in your area to find out what services are available from them.

In addition to their well-known role of filling prescriptions, pharmacists can sometimes administer medications and/or vaccines. In some jurisdictions, they can even prescribe some medications. However, the most crucial role they play is in their knowledge of medications and how they interact within the body, and with other medications. For the patient, the pharmacist is a source of knowledge.

Pharmacists can also advise you on OTC (over-the-counter) medications. OTC medications do not require a doctor’s prescription. Sometimes, OTC medications can have reactions with prescription medications. Also, the pharmacist can advise you on the best OTC medication for the condition you’re dealing with. For example, there are a few different OTC pain medications, and each one treats pain in a different way, so some will work better on certain conditions than others. Your pharmacist will know what’s best for you.

Additionally, pharmacists can also advise and instruct you in the use of medical devices such as crutches, braces, or compression bandages to name a few.

Ask your pharmacist instead…

For example, one of my prescriptions is for a relatively new drug that reduces allergic reactions. It is a type of steroid–a corticosteroid. I also take an asthma controller medication, which is also a similar corticosteroid. I asked my pharmacist recently if I needed to be taking the allergy medication all the time, or if I would be fine just taking it during allergy season (usually in the spring). He said that since I was already getting a corticosteroid via my asthma medication, there was little need for the allergy medication outside of times when my allergies were flaring up. So for now, the prescription for the allergy medication is going unfilled. It was easier and more convenient to simply ask the pharmacist than to try to get in touch with my doctor or the specialist who initially prescribed the medication–and sometimes, doctors can be scant with little details. When it comes to medications, your pharmacist knows everything you will likely need to know–and they’re far more accessible than your doctor is.

It’s important to have your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy and establish a relationship with your pharmacist. This way, they will know all of the drugs that you’re taking and if there are any potentially dangerous interactions. They are an important ‘safety valve’. With the advent of on-line health records (especially in Canada, where I live), the dangers of drug conflicts are being reduced, and it is becoming easier to have prescriptions filled at different pharmacies. However, a relationship with a regular pharmacist is still invaluable. Once per year, my own regular pharmacist will do a quick review of my medications with me.