Since 2004, October has been designated in the U.S. as American Pharmacists Month. During this month, we recognize pharmacies and the invaluable role they play in our communities and in our lives. But how much do regular patients really know about their pharmacy? As it turns out, many pharmacy goers are unaware of the array of services they have access to, the history of pharmacy, and how pharmacists go above and beyond just filling prescriptions.
How did American Pharmacists Month get its start?
The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) was formed in 1852 as a professional organization for pharmacists in the U.S. According to Pharmacy Times, the first “National Pharmaceutical Week” was proposed at an APhA meeting in 1924, and the first inaugural celebration took place the following year in 1925 from Oct 11 to 17. It was originally proposed by a pharmacist from North Carolina named Robert J. Ruth, who envisioned “a week to commemorate the contributions made by pharmacists to their patients and communities.” The week would also serve as a reminder to pharmacists of the responsibility they owe to the pubic to uphold a code of ethics.1
79 years later, “National Pharmacist Week” was extended to the full month of October. The American Pharmacists Association coined the slogan “Know Your Medicine, Know Your Pharmacist” to bring awareness to the benefits of creating personal relationships with your pharmacist and having an open line of communication to discuss your health.1
Even though American Pharmacists Month is the most popular pharmacy-related celebration, there is still a National Pharmacy Week every year during the third full week of October. Additionally, Women Pharmacist Day is on October 12 and the third Tuesday in October is National Pharmacy Technician Day.
How long have pharmacies been around in the U.S.?
The history of pharmacy in the U.S. begins over a century prior to the formation of the APhA. The earliest recorded instances of pharmaceutical practices in the U.S. date back to colonial times and the use of medicinal plants to treat maladies. In 1729, Christopher Marshall opened one of the first apothecaries in Philadelphia. It wasn’t until 1821 that the first pharmacy school was opened: Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. In the 1940s, the Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy was introduced, followed by the six-year Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree in 1997.2
By the time the Industrial Revolution swept through the U.S., pharmacies evolved from preparing nearly all medications in the pharmacy to dispensing many forms of pre-made medications in the form of tablets and capsules. As over-the-counter medications gained popularity, pharmacies had more time to expand their services to include clinical patient care.2
What do independent pharmacies offer that big chains can’t?
Today, it can feel like chain pharmacies have taken over the industry, leaving the days of small independent pharmacies behind. However, there are still independently owned pharmacies in nearly every city in the U.S. Patients frequently site convenience as the number for choosing a chain over an independent. Whether its later hours of operation open or a larger selection of products to choose from, the flexibility they offer is just about the only benefit they provide compared to independent pharmacies.
According to a 2018 Consumer Reports’ survey, “Independent pharmacies earned high scores on such measures as courtesy, helpfulness, and speed of checkout and filling prescriptions, as well as pharmacists’ knowledge and accuracy. At the bottom, large national chain pharmacies.”3 Other benefits of independent pharmacies include:
They are cost-effective. According to that same Consumer Reports’ survey, independent pharmacies do better than big chain drugstores when it comes to prices. Members who went to independent pharmacies were also more likely to report that the pharmacist suggested a lower-cost drug—21 percent—while only nine percent reported chain pharmacists offering them a lower-price option. Worse, national chains tended to have some of the highest out-of-pocket prices. Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers found that some independent and grocery store pharmacies can offer even lower prices if patients just call around in the area and ask for their "cash" or retail price.4
They often fill on the same or following day. Overall, 21 percent of Consumer Reports’ members reported that a drug they needed was out of stock in the past year. As a group, independents were more likely than other types of pharmacies to fill the prescription later that same day or the next. Members who used an independent pharmacist were also far more likely to say that the pharmacy went out of its way to fill prescriptions faster; 41 percent of people said this happened at independent pharmacies, compared to only 20 percent at pharmacy chains.4
They take most insurance. Every year, independent pharmacies must combat the misconception that, because they are small, they do not accept most insurance. Larger insurance companies, many of which own pharmacies themselves, spend a lot of time and money each year telling patients that they are required to use certain pharmacies to fill their prescriptions. Often, patients can switch to a local pharmacy but don’t know it. Before taking the word of your insurance provider, call your local pharmacy to see what your copay is.
Locally owned, independent pharmacies have a lot to offer their communities. They are resilient, flexible, and 100 percent invested in their communities. Independent pharmacies, as a community, continue to lead the way in innovations and expertise to help patients manage the daily and long-term challenges of drug therapies and disease states. They provide high quality care, generate jobs and tax revenue for the community, and dedicate their lives to supporting local.
How can my pharmacist be a part of my healthcare team?
In the spirit of the APhA campaign, “Know Your Medicine, Know Your Pharmacist,” we encourage you to invite your pharmacist to be a part of your healthcare team. This October, consider the following ways to improve communication with the pharmacist at your local pharmacy, endorsed by the Patient Advocate Foundation:
Make sure your patient and insurance information is up to date. Whenever you change addresses, get a new insurance card, or have a change in billing, let your pharmacy know the next time you stop in to pick up your medications. Being proactive eliminates the unnecessary stress of dealing with the wrong insurance being charged after the fact. 5
Keep a medication record. Keeping a physical record of all the medications, vitamins, and supplements you are taking helps keep your pharmacist’s records updated and accurate. Every time there is a change in your medication record, provide your pharmacist with a copy of the newest version. 5
Call the pharmacy after your doctor submits your prescription. If your doctor sends your prescription to your pharmacy electronically, give them a quick call to confirm that it has been received and find out when it will be ready to pick up at the pharmacy. 5
Be honest about any issues you’re having with your medications. Whether it’s an allergic reaction, strange side effect, or difficulty swallowing large pills—your pharmacist will have a solution. No problem is too small if it makes it more difficult to take your medication—even if it’s that you have trouble reading labels or remembering your dosing schedule. Your pharmacist’s job is to ensure that you stick to your regimen, and having open, honest conversations will allow them to help you to the best of their ability.5
Pharmacy has evolved significantly over the years, and the ways that pharmacies can impact the lives of their communities continues to grow and change. Having the innovative services and personal connection that an independent pharmacy provides at your fingertips can positively affect a patient’s health. By taking advantage of these services and inviting pharmacists to be a part of your healthcare team, you are participating in American Pharmacists Month and recognizing the dedicated, skillful work that our community members perform every day.