Drugstore services expand to include some worth considering and some to avoid

July 1, 2013

The popular image of the friendly neighborhood drugstore — with a pharmacist wearing a lab coat and counting pills into a container by hand — is certainly quaint. But the reality is that many pharmacies have been economically crunched by increased competition.

To keep customers and attract new ones, some drugstores are reinventing themselves. The result: new and diverse services, including flu shots, diabetes management and medication consultations.

But aresuch offerings worth your time and money? Consumer Reports looked at some of them to find out.

Services to consider

Vaccines and travel immunizations.

Many pharmacies provide immunizations, especially flu shots. Although rules vary by state, your local pharmacy might offer a wide array of vaccinations, such as those for chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, the human papillomavirus (HPV), pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, polio and shingles. Stores that offer travel immunizations, such as Target and Walgreens, also carry vaccines for meningitis, typhoid and other diseases.

Medication coordination.

For people who take several prescription drugs regularly, some pharmacies can synchronize your refill schedule (with your doctor’s help) so you don’t need to make multiple trips to the pharmacy every month. Pharmacists can also review your medication during a one-on-one consultation to make sure you aren’t duplicating any drugs, taking ones that you no longer need or experiencing side effects.

Blister packing.

If you have difficulty remembering whether you took your regimen of medication, ask a pharmacist to create daily blister packs instead of putting your pills in traditional vials. (There might be an additional charge, one usually not covered by insurance.) Blister packs can also help people who have poor vision or difficulty reading to take their medication more accurately.

Ask your doctor before using these services…

Drug monitoring for chronic conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Periodic check-ins at pharmacies can be useful for consumers learning about their condition, especially those with a new diagnosis. But rely only on pharmacists accredited in diabetes self-management training and education.

Weight analysis.

Some pharmacists can help when you’re trying to lose weight. Those at Walgreens will calculate your body composition, which is the percentage of body fat and skeletal muscle, as well as your waist circumference and your body mass index. You can bring the results to your doctor so that he or she can help you decide if a weight-loss program is necessary.

Smoking cessation.

If you purchase nicotine-replacement products at a pharmacy, it’s wise to talk with a pharmacist about the side effects and the dangers of smoking while wearing a patch. Some pharmacies offer smoking-cessation programs. If you try one, be sure the pharmacist is certified and trained to provide such counseling, and let your doctor know that you’ve entered a program.

… and after using these

While it’s not a bad idea to find out your blood pressure reading or get other screenings at a pharmacy, it’s important to check the results with your regular doctor, who’s monitoring your overall health and any ongoing treatments.

Screening tests.

Many stores, such as Costco, offer periodic screening tests to check consumers for heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and even asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Those screenings can provide clues about your health and alert you to potential problems, but diagnosing a disease should be done by your doctor.

Walk-in clinics.

Clinics at some CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Wal-Mart stores can treat minor ailments, such as conjunctivitis (pinkeye), strep throat and urinary tract infections. Be sure to provide nurse practitioners or other health-care professionals on duty with your medical history, including allergies you have and any medication you take.

Services to skip

Bone-density screenings.

Traditional bone-density tests scan the lower spine and hip, but the machines that have been used in some neighborhood pharmacies scan the heel instead. While a heel scan might predict fracture risk at certain sites, it’s not nearly as accurate as a scan of the hip and lower spine. In fact, normal results could provide a false sense of security.

Supplements for sale.

Many pharmacies sell them, but understand who is giving you advice. Last year two U.S. senators questioned Rite Aid about placing its “wellness ambassadors” in white coats, which could give customers the impression that they were pharmacists qualified to give advice about supplements.

A recent Consumer Reports analysis of popular vitamins and supplements found that most people don’t need to take a dietary supplement if their diet already provides the recommended amount of nutrients. Moreover, such products are only loosely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Copyright 2013. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.

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