The pharmacist’s calling is to educate patients


Today’s pharmacist is much more than a healthcare professional who oversees the distribution of drugs. Pharmacists can be and often are the patient’s first-line healthcare educator and risk manager.

Ken BakerThe preamble to the APhA Code of Ethics says: “Pharmacists are health professionals who assist individuals in making the best use of medications.”1 In the years since the code was last updated, pharmacy has changed. Today’s pharmacist is much more than the healthcare professional who oversees the distribution of drugs. Pharmacists can be and often are the patient’s first-line healthcare educator and risk manager.

See also: A pharmacist's real job: The art and ethics of communication

Today more than ever the pharmacist is the most accessible healthcare provider. While pharmacists often complain that they do not have access to the patient’s complete health records, they still have an amazing amount of information at their fingertips. In addition, by viewing and talking to the patient for only a few seconds, they can obtain much more information.

Diabetes, for example

Recently a pharmacist in a grocery store pharmacy not only explained to a patient how to use the insulin pen; he demonstrated its use and did not walk away until the patient understood. This happens every day, and with the aid of good pharmacy technicians who help organize time, it can happen more.

See also: Renewing the patient contract

The example of diabetes illustrates how pharmacists not only can assist patients after diagnosis, but also can help them discover they have the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 37% of the population of the United States may be “prediabetic.”2 In its 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, the CDC estimated that 9.3% of the population has diabetes, and that of that number, more than 8 million are undiagnosed.3

Signs to watch for

Any of your patients can develop diabetes. The risk is higher if your patient:

  • Is over 45 years of age

  • Is overweight

  • Has high blood pressure4

Noteworthy symptoms

According to the American Kidney Fund, diabetes has few symptoms. To establish a diagnosis, the patient must be tested. Symptoms often include:

  • Feeling tired

  • Feeling irritable

  • Urinating more frequently than usual

  • Being very thirsty

  • Being very hungry

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Blurred vision4

Pharmacists have this kind of information for many patients.

With diabetes, the No. 1 cause of kidney failure, an early diagnosis is important. Almost half of all cases of kidney failure are caused by diabetes.4  At least some of these cases may be preventable, and educating patients can help. The key is to get the patient to the point of being tested and diagnosed. Once diagnosed, diabetes can be controlled with diet and medication.


Many opportunities

Diabetes is only one example of how pharmacists can help patients live longer and healthier lives.

When a pharmacist talks to a patient about the need to be tested for one of any number of diseases, that pharmacist is acting as risk manager and educator for the patient.

When a pharmacist notes from the patient prescription profile that the patient is not compliant with high blood-pressure or anticholesterol treatment, it is an opportunity to start a conversation that can prevent future heart attacks or strokes.

When a pharmacist makes sure that patients know what they are taking and what “three times a day” means, that pharmacist is practicing risk management.

Education is not limited to counseling. It also may be accomplished by giving literature to a patient with a simple “You may want to read this.”

A pharmacist also may provide education by contributing a series of articles to the local newspaper or writing a health blog.

It is easy for a pharmacist to meet the legal standards of practice of the profession; that means performing the minimum necessary. Meeting professional and ethical standards is harder.


1. American Pharmacists Association. Code of Ethics for Pharmacists. Accessed July 6, 2015.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014. Accessed July 5, 2015.

3. CDC, ibid. Accessed July 7, 2015.

4. American Kidney Fund. Diabetes & Kidney Disease. Accessed July 5, 2015.

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