Over the years, the duties performed by pharmacists have constantly evolved in order to adapt to each particular era. Modern pharmacy has become much more than pill counting!
A bit of history
The earliest evidence of pharmacy practice – prescriptions carved on 4,600-year-old clay tablets – was found in Mesopotamia. Elders had described illnesses on these tablets, along with descriptions of how to prepare remedies and the appropriate incantations for accelerating healing.
It is known that Egyptians were practicing pharmacy 2,900 years before our time, and that they had remarkable knowledge. In a document dating back to 1,500 years B.C. and containing 800 prescriptions, some 700 medicinal products are mentioned, some of which are still being used in modern pharmacopoeia. Many other peoples, including the Chinese, Amerindians and Arabs, had in-depth knowledge of the properties of various herbs.
It was only in the Middle Ages that the roles of physician and pharmacist were differentiated. Using Greco-Roman knowledge, Arabs in Baghdad (Iraq) founded the first private pharmacy side rooms near the end of the 8th century. Through commercial exchanges, their apothecary model spread through Western Europe.
The word apothicaire appears for the first time in French records in 1178, followed by the opening of the first pharmacy in Germany 45 years later. In 1240, German emperor Frederic II, influenced by the Arabs, issued a decree separating the physician's and the apothecary's professions, thus marking the beginning of the growth of pharmacy. The German emperor required that medication be prepared in a reliable manner by qualified specialists, and that the quality be consistent and apt to ensure the health of the population.
In 1617, Paris apothecary Louis Hébert came to settle permanently in Québec City with his family. The very first settler in New France was therefore a pharmacist! Caring for the health of his peers, he cultivated many indigenous plants brought to him by Amerindians.
Still today, pharmacists are the only professionals authorized to sell medication, apart from “over-the-counter” products that can also be purchased in other stores. Having initially been specialists in the composition and preparation of medication, pharmacists are now also experts in the effects pharmaceutical drugs have on the body and in the possible interactions between substances.
What community pharmacists can offer
Community pharmacists are qualified and accessible healthcare professionals. They can be easily accessed to help you treat benign health problems. They are first-line practitioners because they can offer advice and over-the-counter medication.
Lifestyle questions? Overwhelmed by the massive selection of over-the-counter drugs? Think you might be having adverse effects from your medication? Speak to your pharmacist! Whether you think your question is overly simple or very complex, pharmacists have the knowledge and tools necessary to help you. In cases where the problem goes beyond their field of expertise, they will refer you to another healthcare professional. Although you can spontaneously speak to your pharmacist when visiting the pharmacy, in many cases it is also possible to take an appointment.
Pharmacists can also help you determine what medication and accessories you should keep handy at home, and how to preserve them based on your needs. Going on a trip? An emergency kit is a must-have item to bring along. If you want to make sure you don’t forget anything and have all the essential elements for your health profile and activities, it is best to get your pharmacist’s recommendations.
In order to help you and give you the best advice, pharmacists must know your health profile. They therefore ask questions on your history, symptoms, situation and lifestyle, and also on the prescription and over-the-counter medication you take. Answer as accurately and honestly as possible, otherwise they won’t be able to make truly tailored recommendations. Like all healthcare professionals, pharmacists are required to keep all client information confidential.
Doctors and pharmacists work together to offer you the best treatment possible. Doctors often contact pharmacists for information on medication, while pharmacists, for their part, do not hesitate to contact physicians if they have any doubts or questions regarding their patient’s drug therapy. Pharmacists must also inform the treating physician of any adverse effects or problems patients encounter with their medication.
It is important for these two healthcare professionals to communicate in order to ensure the most appropriate drug therapy for their patients. To benefit from the best care possible, make sure you understand your treatment correctly, and that you inform your pharmacist of any change to your health status and of any adverse effects possibly caused by your medication. If necessary, your doctor and pharmacist will adjust your drug therapy to improve your well-being.
Having difficulty managing a series of medication you now have to take at different times of the day? Pharmacy staff can sort your medication into a pill organizer, which has separate little boxes for medication to be taken in the morning, at noon, at dinner and at bedtime, for each day of the week. This device greatly simplifies pill-taking and helps ensure you don’t forget any medication.
Found lots of expired medication after cleaning out your medicine cabinet at home? Bring them back to the pharmacy, where they will be disposed of in a manner that is both safe and respectful for the environment. Medication should never be thrown into the garbage or flushed down the toilet.
Other areas of pharmaceutical practice
Many pharmacists also work in hospitals. Although their duties there still include supplying, managing and distributing medication, their role has been significantly expanded in recent years. They are now an integral part of many healthcare teams, they manage follow-up clinics for patients with certain diseases (e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, heart failure, anticoagulant therapy and antibiotic therapy), and they provide training for other healthcare professionals.
Some pharmacists work within the government where, among other things, they work on approving new medication and on managing public drug insurance and health insurance plans.
Pharmacists are also indispensable in the pharmaceutical industry, where their roles are equally diverse: researching new medication, performing clinical trials, preparing regulatory submissions and medical information.
In the coming years, community pharmacists will have to lead a more active role in patient follow-up and treatment adjustment. Based on their skills and interests, some pharmacists will be working with other healthcare professionals to establish various innovative services, such as clinics specializing in perfusion, anticoagulant therapy, diabetes, etc.
Pharmacists are therefore available and accessible health professionals. Benefit fully from their expertise! In order to get the best advice for your specific situation, make sure to give them accurate information on your lifestyle, medical history, and any medication or alternative medicine you are taking. Don’t hesitate to jot down the name of “your” pharmacist and contact this person if you have any questions. By being aware of your specific needs, he or she will be better able to support you.