It’s tempting for patients to seek advice from pharmacists. They think because they work with medications, pharmacists should know how to direct them when they have a problem. As a healthcare professional, you know better. A pharmacy can’t do much more than simply dispense the medication they’ve been asked to.

For example, a patient has a cut on their hand and it looks like it may be infected. They head to the pharmacy to get an over the counter treatment. While there, they ask the pharmacist to help them determine if indeed, they have an infection.

Pharmacists cannot do this. Only a doctor can diagnose an ailment.

This is just one of many things a pharmacy or pharmacist cannot do for you. Here are some of the reasons why utilizing a pharmacy is not as useful to patients as in-office dispensing.

Pharmacists Cannot Assess You

The assessment process is lengthy and extremely detailed. Assessments usually begin before patients meet with a doctor and consume a great deal of time, especially for new patients.

Information gathered during an assessment includes family history of medical problems and possible genetic connections with medical issues. Questions such as your weight, height and temperature will also be taken, as well as getting a verbal account from the patient about the symptoms currently being experienced.

Physicians assess the mental and physical state of a patient based on questions specific to mood and physicality.

The assessment given by a physician and their staff can take more than one appointment. The doctor may ask the patient to complete forms prior to their meeting or after.

A pharmacist simply does not take this time, and cannot take this time, to meet with a patient. They can barely provide time to consult patients on their medication. Without an assessment, a doctor is not able to provide a treatment plan for patients.

Pharmacists Cannot Diagnose You

Some report that nearly 80 percent of a diagnosis is based on the history the patient gives the doctor. A diagnosis is given after taking relevant data from the patient, collecting information through testing and lab work, performing a physical exam and communicating consistently with patients.

Doctors may also consult with previous professionals who have worked with the patient to review past test results or to collaborate to form the best diagnosis.

The diagnosis does not just stop now a doctor tells a patient their opinion on what is causing their symptoms. Diagnosing a patient also includes follow-up appointments, follow-up lab testing and follow-up consultations. These ensure the diagnosis is correct and the patient is showing signs of improved health.

Pharmacists Cannot Explain Treatment Options

While pharmacists can offer their opinion and yes, they are well-educated on the prescription medicines they fill, they are not the right person to recommend treatment options for patients.

Patients are the ultimate decision makers as to what treatment they will choose. They will make this decision based on the numerous options given to them by their physician. It is up to their physician to tell them every option available, the cost of that option, and the success rate of each option.

Physicians can also recommend which option they think is best for the patient. However, it is still up to the patient to make the final decision on how to treat their health issues.

Pharmacists are not trained like physicians to offer treatment options, and they would not want to risk their license in doing so. Pharmacists can, however, explain in detail the medication or treatment you have been prescribed.

For example, if a patient is prescribed an anti-depressant, pharmacists can consult with the patient on everything related to that anti-depressant. This can include side effects and what to do in case of an accidental overdose.

This same pharmacist, even if they feel the patient has been given a poor medication, cannot explain all other treatment options to a patient. They can simply refer them back to their physician.

Pharmacists Cannot Refer You for Specialty Treatment and Lab Work

Depending on the insurance company through which a patient is insured, a referral may or may not be required for them to see a specialist.

When a referral is needed, it always must come from a physician or treating medical professional that is qualified to make the referral. Pharmacists are not qualified to make this type of referral. Specialists are an important part of a patient’s treatment process.

A specialist is a doctor who has worked many hours in a specific field to become an expert. This means they have more experience and more education on one medical field. For instance, cardiac specialists are experts in heart related matters. Ear, nose and throat doctors are experts in those areas. And Psychiatrists are experts in treating mental illness.

It is important for your doctor to collaborate with specialists when they are unable to completely heal you on their own.

Referrals are always needed for lab work, and they must always come from the practicing medical professional, such as a doctor or nurse practitioner.

What Can a Pharmacist Do If doctor dispensing Isn’t an Option?

If a doctor is unable to dispense at the point of care, a pharmacist will be needed. If this is the case, a pharmacist will simply be able to fill the prescription written by a physician. They cannot change the prescription or write their own prescription to override the doctor’s. There are so many reasons why doctor dispensing is better than a pharmacy, though sometimes pharmacists are still needed when doctor dispensing isn’t available.

It is the pharmacists job to verify the dosage, the name of the medicine, and to check for drug interactions. They should dispense medicines in a safe area free from cross-contamination. They should check with the physician with any questions or concerns they may have regarding a prescription. And they should consult the patient on everything.

A pharmacist should advise and teach patients how to use their medication properly. Counseling patients is very important and leads to greater compliance. Unfortunately, pharmacists today do less counseling due to their busy caseloads.

The best-case scenario is when a physician prescribed medication at the point of care, eliminating the pharmacist, or middle-man. This leaves less room for errors and impressive results achieved by patients.