Editor's note: Unedited video of Becky Bean, PharmD, speaking to this topic is available for media. Download 720p version here . Download the SD version here .

Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, are the leading causes of death and disability across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Many chronic conditions are preventable or manageable. By establishing a long-term relationship with a pharmacist, patients can greatly improve their outcomes.

“Your pharmacist is your most accessible health care professional and can help you with medication-related questions, including ways to avoid adverse effects or drug interactions,” said Becky Bean, director of population health pharmacy at Novant Health. “They can also help remove barriers associated with taking a prescribed medication, such as identifying cost-saving alternatives to medications or helping patients navigate complicated pharmacy insurance issues.”

Pharmacists as clinical practitioners

Since 2004, the Accreditation Council of Pharmaceutical Education has required pharmacy students to obtain an accredited doctorate of pharmacy degree, also known as PharmD. This change was made in an effort to expand the pharmacist’s role as a clinical practitioner and educator. Previously, pharmacists were solely focused on drug distribution and dispensing.

Today’s pharmacists also have the opportunity to complete certificate programs focused on the management of specific diseases or focus on a specific area of pharmacy practice, such as oncology pharmacy. Some pharmacists may further differentiate themselves by specializing in an area of clinical practice, such as becoming a certified diabetes educator.

Be sure to ask your pharmacist about any unique areas of expertise he or she has that may help with your health needs.

Tips to initiate the conversation

Your pharmacist is an important member of your health care team. Bean says the easiest way to build a relationship with your pharmacist is to ask questions about new medications.  

“Anytime you get a new prescription filled, take some time to discuss it with your pharmacist,” Bean said. “Ask what the medication is for, when and how to take it, whether it should be taken with or without food and if there are any potential adverse effects. If there are potential adverse effects, you should find out when to call the provider or if they will improve over time, and if so, how long it may take.”

It is also critical that your pharmacist has a complete list of medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter products and herbal supplements. The pharmacist will review the list for potential problems, such as duplicate medications or drug interactions each time a new prescription is filled.

Your pharmacist should also be told if you have any allergies or barriers to taking a certain form of medication, such as visual impairments, dexterity issues or confusion with complex dosing schedules.

By highlighting certain barriers, pharmacists can recommend tools and strategies to fill and administer prescriptions, including 90-refill and home delivery programs, medication synchronization and insurance plans. Pharmacists can also consult directly with your provider to clarify details of your treatment plan.

“Having a relationship with a pharmacist does not replace the role of a patient’s primary care provider,” Bean said. “We work as a team. A patient’s pharmacist is available to help resolve medication issues in collaboration with the patient’s primary care provider. Pharmacists also are available to help the patient understand the information that is contained in a drug monograph and what information is important to ensure the best possible outcome.”