The range of services offered by pharmacies, including chains and independents, is growing fast. Many now offer flu and other vaccinations, including travel vaccines. Some help manage “specialty” drugs, complicated medications that require injections or infusions. Or pharmacies can monitor blood pressure or blood sugar levels.
“Patients spend a lot more time in their local pharmacy than in the doctor’s office, so I see it as a great opportunity to get their blood pressure checked,” says Michael Hochman, M.D., director of the Gehr Center for Health Systems Science at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles.
Some chains are adding walk-in health clinics to their stores, where you can get basic care even on weekends and at night without an appointment. The number of those clinics at chains such as CVS and Walgreens grew by 47 percent between 2014 and 2017. And CVS says that with its merger with Aetna, it plans to open even more of them.
Many chain and big-box stores have smartphone apps or websites that allow you to manage your prescription refills and schedule flu shots or other immunizations. Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart even offer low-cost prescription meds for pets.
Independent pharmacies sometimes offer more niche services. For example, last year when Linda and Earl Bullock of Eastland, Texas, needed help choosing a Medicare Part D plan, they enlisted the help of Benjamin McNabb, Pharm.D., at Love Oak Pharmacy. Ben, as Linda Bullock calls him, had their drug histories, so he was able to help them choose a plan that covered all of their drugs and was affordable, too.
Love Oak Pharmacy can also help homebound patients manage complex drug regimens. “We have trained personnel who can go into the home and assist that patient directly, especially for those who take multiple medications and who have other health problems,” McNabb says.
CR’s tips: “Talk with your pharmacist and find out what they offer in services,” Linda Bullock says. “You might be surprised at all that’s on offer.” Then decide which of those services matter most to you and consider that information when selecting a pharmacy.
Experts say it’s generally okay to use a pharmacy for your vaccines or go to a retail clinic for basic health problems like a rash or sprain, but it’s still important to have a primary care physician and to keep him or her in the loop. For example, share the results of your blood pressure tests with your physician, and let him or her know you got a flu shot so that the information is noted in your medical record.