10 times you can head to a pharmacy before a doctor's office


For minor aches and ailments, there’s a health expert you might be overlooking: your local pharmacist. And there’s never a co-pay for their advice.

Though pharmacists aren’t able to diagnose illnesses or prescribe medication, they can provide valuable guidance – often sooner than a doctor is available. Just visit or call your pharmacy and ask to speak with a pharmacist.

Your community pharmacist can help you…

1. When you want to save money

Pharmacists can help you find over-the-counter medications that offer the best value for the symptoms you’re hoping to treat, whether it’s a generic equivalent or a therapeutic equivalent (medication that does the same job but uses less-expensive ingredients).

They can also work with your doctor to switch prescription medication to a product that’s equally effective but less expensive.

2. When you need medication injected or need to learn how to inject medication

In most states, pharmacists are trained and permitted to perform various subcutaneous and intramuscular medicine injections. They can help you learn how to safely give injections to yourself or inject it for you.

3. When you need a vaccine

Pharmacists can also provide flu shots and other vaccines. (The list of immunizations available in the pharmacy varies by state.)

This frees up doctors’ time and keeps you from spending time in a waiting room for a quick injection when getting the flu shot every year.  

4. When you need to manage cold and flu symptoms

If you’re trying to manage a runny nose, sinus congestion, coughing or other minor symptoms, your pharmacist can determine the best over-the-counter treatment with the fewest side effects for you. Just be sure to tell the pharmacist about significant notes in your medical history, or medications that might interfere with cough and cold treatments. 

5. When you’re not sure if you need to see a doctor

You shouldn’t procrastinate seeing your doctor when you’re seriously ill or injured. It’s especially important to visit an emergency department if you’re experiencing, for example, heart attack or stroke symptoms, or a cut with significant blood loss.

However, pharmacists are specifically taught and able to identify which types of coughs would require a doctor’s attention, whether a rash should be treated by a dermatologist and at which point you should head to the doctor or hospital if minor symptoms worsen.

The pharmacist’s goal in this instance isn’t to keep you from using your doctor, but to make you more aware of your medical condition and symptoms, and to seek the appropriate help. Pharmacists referring patients to medical professionals have frequently helped save lives. 

6. When you want the best medicine for your headache or muscle ache

Pharmacists are also trained and adept at identifying types of muscle aches and headaches and the over-the-counter medicines that can help for each type.

Importantly, they can tell you how that medicine will work for you, especially if you have other health conditions or are taking other medications.

7. When you need advice on managing diabetes

Navigating the world of diabetes supplies and diabetes management can be overwhelming, especially for someone who’s been recently diagnosed. Unfortunately, errors with insulin can lead to serious problems.

In addition to helping you find supplies that work best for your lifestyle, pharmacists can prevent serious errors by helping you administer insulin, understand its effects and determine when you should and shouldn’t use it.

8. When you need a creative way to take medicine

Some people struggle to swallow pills, but a pharmacist usually can find a different form of the medication or a way to mix it into an easy-to-swallow juice.

Many pharmacies also offer ways to flavor liquid medicines that are difficult for children, especially, to stomach.

9. When you need basic information about medication

Many people will call their doctor’s offices when they have a question about a prescription, but what often happens is that a nurse or doctor will check with a pharmacist to find the answer. You can go straight to the pharmacist to find out about medication side effects, interactions and similar questions.

10. When you need to know if a medicine is safe for you

Your pharmacist can tell you if you can take a certain medication while pregnant or breastfeeding, for example, or while taking other over-the-counter medications.

If you visit the same pharmacy where you receive prescription medicine, that pharmacist can also use your medication history to figure out if any prescription or over-the-counter medications will have adverse interactions or side effects.


Robert Weber is the administrator of Pharmaceutical Services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant dean in the College of Pharmacy.