Pharmacists can be an essential bridge between patients and their doctors

Vital Signs Winter 2024
Pharmacist and patient

It used to be that doctors communicated with pharmacists only through nearly illegible notes on a page ripped from a prescription pad. These days, however, their communication is broader and deeper, with the pharmacist increasingly recognized as a physician’s partner and patient advocate, says Ghada Ashkar, PharmD, associate chief of ambulatory pharmacy for UCLA Health. 

“The value of the pharmacist as a health care professional is being recognized more and more,” Dr. Ashkar says. “It’s always been really valued in the inpatient acute care setting because they work side by side with the provider. But now, specifically on the ambulatory side, in the community, pharmacists are very accessible to the patient, enhancing their access to care through collaborating with the providers.” 

The work pharmacists do to support patients ranges from explaining how to take medications to finding lower-cost options to looking for red flags and potential drug interactions.  

While clinical pharmacists in the inpatient hospital setting may not dispense medications directly to patients, they are available to provide services such as patient education, disease management and assistance with financial programs. In fact, patients leaving the hospital with multiple prescriptions often are met at their bedside by a UCLA Health pharmacist who demystifies the new protocol, a simple step that can help prevent readmissions,  Dr. Ashkar says. 

“The value of the pharmacist as a health care professional is being recognized more and more.”

Pharmacists also are tasked with ensuring that a patient’s prescription is appropriate for their condition, doesn’t interact with other medications they are taking and doesn’t raise any red flags. It’s on the pharmacist to notice if a patient is getting prescriptions from multiple physicians, particularly if different providers are prescribing the same medications. 

“Pharmacists are the last defense for the patient,” Dr. Ashkar notes. “If a prescription was prescribed wrong, the pharmacist is the last person who’s going to check the prescription before the patient starts taking it.” 

Pharmacists not only help physicians by educating patients about drugs and serving as a second pair of eyes on prescriptions, they are increasingly helping to lighten doctors’ loads by approving refills and even writing prescriptions for certain medications, such as contraceptives and smoking-cessation drugs, Dr. Ashkar says. “It’s helping to alleviate provider burnout, because physicians already have a lot on their plates. Pharmacists are now being recognized as a health care professional that’s really trusted, and they can take on some of the clinical work that the provider doesn’t have to do so they can focus on the patient,” Dr. Ashkar adds. 

Learn more about UCLA Health pharmaceutical services