Virtual Reality: Video Gaming May Lead to a Healthier Life

It seems that just 15 years ago, believing cell phones could be as small as credit cards, while quartz crystals could hold Terabytes of information, was no more than pure science fiction. But the computer age spins out marvels almost faster than we can get used to them. And uses for new computer technology within the health industry are no less spectacular.

Virtual reality (VR) is one of the new arenas in health technology exploration. The gaming industry has given rise to a host of possible solutions for medical problems that have proven difficult to solve in the past.

HTC Vive


 It all starts with the VR headset. Companies like HTC and Valve have crafted fully interactive headgear. VR headgear transports the gamer — or potentially a patient and doctor — directly into the computer environment; all rendered in perfect 3D, and in real time. Attached, wireless joysticks allow seamless movement and translation of physical reality into virtual reality (theoretically).

For gamers, this presents direct access to gaming. For patients and physicians, this could literally mean tackling disease face-to-face.

Although state-of-the-art, such technology still has many issues to work out. When VR works, it is spectacular.  However while technology today provides a much better experience than ever before, in order for VR to become a mainstay in the medical field it needs to be perfect as slight variations, or human miscalculations due to headset error can be catastrophic.

But despite some bumps in the road progress is being made.  Here are some avenues of exploration currently being mapped out for VR use:


Diagnostics and Training

 Accurately diagnosing a patient’s illness can be just as difficult as treating it. VR allows health professionals to test for many diseases and disorders of the brain, using simple diagnostic tests involving light and colors. And the testing is a relatively pleasant experience for the patient.


Similarly, imagine a world where the “practice” part of medical-practice happens in a VR environment, instead of on cadavers and willing human subjects. Surgeons are now beginning to train using computer simulations, which allow for “mistakes” that aid learning, but do no real harm.


Pain Management

 Pain management is a huge and profitable industry, as well as a source of great difficulty and potential for abuse. Drug companies search for less expensive ways to alleviate pain, while patients search for less addictive ways to experience relief from that pain.

VR has applications for pain relief related to simple distraction, as well as more involved and mysterious psychological pain relief — such as relieving the impossible problem of persistent pain from an amputated limb by allowing the patient to see and control a limb that does not exist.


Mental Health

 No matter which agency you ask, from the American Psychological Association (APA) to the World Health Organization (WHO), all acknowledge that the planet is experiencing a global mental health crisis. From anxiety disorders and PTSD, to autism, depression, and pure stress; the medical profession is becoming increasingly aware of the mind-body relationship. Treat the mind first, and cures for many of the illnesses of the body will follow.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

 Because of its interactive environment, which is both highly programmable and controllable, VR exploration is the perfect medium for doctors who want to help patients suffering from PTSD. Recreating the stressors behind PTSD, and gently guiding a patient through the trauma, has thus far been successful in treating soldiers who suffer from this debilitating mental condition. Other sufferers of PTSD can benefit just as well.

  • Autism

 One of the greatest challenges for parents of autistic children and medical professionals is in trying to socialize those children. How do you teach autistic children to interact with others, without exposing them to trauma or potential psychological damage from out-of-control social situations?

VR is providing a platform for just that sort of therapy. Highly controlled situations can gently expose sensitive autism sufferers to the social situations they need to pull them from their psychological shells.

  • Stress

 There is an overwhelming wave of research that relates stress, and the mind-body reaction to stress, to dozens of diseases and disorders. Relieving stressors, specifically with types of mediation, is a multi-billion dollar industry in itself.

VR meditation and stress relief is predicted to rapidly become a stand-alone industry, that requires little to no medication.

  • Phobias, Anxiety Disorders, and Depression

 VR is the perfect way to treat patients with various phobias, as well as clinical depression related to specific life events. Much of therapy relies on a therapist gently guiding patients through mental trauma, often by having the patient relive it mentally; all as a way to try to reprocess the pain of the events in a more healthy way.

VR is a way for therapists to guide this process in a more realistic and direct way, while at the same time controlling exactly how much exposure a patient receives.


A New Dawn of Healthcare Options

 Much of disease treatment is symptom treatment. Doctors try to eliminate discouraging and debilitating symptoms to improve patients’ quality of life.

And with the pharmaceutical industry in a losing race against the ever-increasing list of side-effects from new drugs, and then side effects from the drugs prescribed to treat those side-effects … well, it becomes obvious why drug-free, non-physically-invasive treatment is preferable in some situations.

VR is beginning to lead the vanguard in such treatments.

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Save Your Life: Read the Label and Ask Questions

Prescription drug advertising has entered a new era. Radio, T.V., social media, and newspapers are flooded with innovative, provocative advertisements; ranging from high blood pressure and cholesterol drugs to those for treating depression or erectile dysfunction. But it wasn’t always this way.

The Don Drapers of the world have definitely been busy. Prescription drugs are a product to sell, that’s true. But the advertising around them must be treated in a more careful way.

Prescription Drug Advertising Facts

Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs been around less than 30 years. There are no laws to prevent advertising of prescriptions. As part of the Food and Drug Administration, the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion sets the rules for how drugs can be advertised. Ads must be truthful, accurate and balanced. Average Americans have to be able to understand the complex medical information.

The OPDP does not pre-screen ads, but it does respond to questions and complaints from consumers. Companies with problematic ads receive notice when their message is misleading or otherwise falls outside of guidelines.

As important as what advertising says is what it doesn’t say; especially in the case of drugs. For example, Pharmaceutical companies aren’t forced to say when a generic (cheaper) version of an expensive drug is already on the market. They also don’t have to tell you how, or how quickly, a drug works.

Whether you think that’s fair, the practice of prescription drug advertising has been a subject of controversy in the recent past. But when drug companies follow the established guidelines — and consumers educate themselves, to be able to ask the right questions — there’s nothing wrong with the practice.


Ads Vary

Nearly all prescription drug advertisements fall into one of three categories: product claim advertisements, reminder ads and help-seeking ads.

Product claim advertisements are arguably the most familiar. They name a drug, what it treats, and the most serious side effects associated with the drug. Televisions ads that make claims about certain drugs don’t have to list every usage or side effect associated with that drug. But they must point consumers to reliable sources of more information.

Reminder ads mention drugs by name, but these ads don’t address the drug’s uses or risks. Such advertising targets consumers who may already have a prescription, or have heard of the drug elsewhere.

Help-seeking ads discuss a condition rather than a specific drug. For these ads, the standard rules don’t apply. Consumers have to do their own research, and are invited to call a number or visit a website.

What Consumers Think and Report

According to an AARP survey, 90% of Americans aged 18 or older have seen or heard an advertisement for prescription drugs. Almost 80% of those say they saw an ad on television. One in ten people who watched such ads went on to discuss the drug with their doctor. This sounds like a small number, but from a marketing perspective, 10% is an incredibly good result for any campaign. Even more significant is this fact: Two-thirds of the people who spoke with their doctor about a drug they saw an ad for actually received a prescription or a free sample.

Keep These Questions in Mind

Always remember that advertising’s ultimate goal is to get people to spend money and become loyal to certain products and brands. There is a company behind every ad, and that company wants to make a profit. Only doctors can diagnose conditions and prescribe drugs. If you see an ad for a medication that interests you, always ask questions. What are the risks for me? How might this drug interact with prescription and non-prescription drugs I’m already taking? Are there non-pharmaceutical alternatives? Might this work better than what I’m using right now? Might it be worse?

If nothing else, remember this – your doctor or pharmacist will always know far more about you and your healthcare needs than a pharmaceutical company, or a Madison Avenue ad agency. Those medical professionals work for, and are accountable, to you. Compare their medical opinions, and allow that knowledge to inform your choice about what you should and shouldn’t be taking to achieve optimal health. Take charge of your own health care.

Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of the drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using this drug.

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Are Vyvanse Coupons Available?

English: Front and back of a 40mg Vyvanse(Lisd...

English: Front and back of a 40mg Vyvanse(Lisdexamfetamine) capsule. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vyvanse (generic: lisdexamfetamine) is a drug approved by the FDA to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and binge-eating disorders (BED). It was officially approved by the FDA for use in 2010 (for children) and 2012 (for adults). Vyvanse is classified as a stimulant, and works similarly to other stimulant drugs which are used to treat ADHD. Because it has the potential for abuse, like all stimulants, Vyvanse is classified as a controlled-substance and its use is heavily monitored.

ADHD is related to the way that the brain works. Neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow neurons to communicate) flow between nerves, allowing the body’s messages to reach the brain. Sometimes those neurotransmitters get imbalanced, which affects human thinking and behavior. Researchers have been working with this theory for decades now; and it is also the basis for how antidepressants work.


The Problem With Vyvanse: It’s Expensive

Vyvanse has only recently been approved for use with those diagnosed with ADHD; as well as B.E.D. Vyvanse is one of the “new kids on the block,” so to speak, and it can be very expensive. The makers of the Vyvanse, Shire, still hold the exclusive rights to manufacture the drug. There is no inexpensive generic version available at this time.

The cost of this medication, which is usually prescribed over a long period of time, can exceed $200 a month. That amount of money adds up fast, and many are not in the position to afford the sticker price. To help offset the financial impact, the manufacturer offers a patient assistance program, as well as a coupon for the actual medication.

Other Vyvanse coupons, like those offered by are wonderful options for saving money on this drug as well. The discount cards are free to access and print, and consumers need only take it with them to the pharmacy. offers other such free coupons for hundreds of brand-name and generic prescriptions.

For patients in dire need: dextroamphetamine, which is similar to the main ingredient in Vyvanse, does have a prescription version. The main difference between Vyvanse and dextroamphetamine is in how the body breaks them down, after consumption. Vyvanse is less likely to cause chemical dependence. All stimulants have the potential for abuse, however.

According to the FDA, such generics are just as safe and effective as the more costly, brand-name versions. In addition, the FDA regulates the quality of such generics with the same exacting standards used for the designer-name medications. Dextroamphetamine coupons can also be printed off from Patients who have difficulty affording the more expensive Vyvanse prescription are encouraged to ask their physician or pharmacist if dextroamphetamines will suit their medical needs; at least until the patent on Vyvanse allows for a prescription version.


ADHD is a complex behavioral disease often found in children, though it can afflict people at any age. Related to the way the neurons in the brain function, those who suffer with ADHD often find themselves becoming impulsive, hyperactive, or unable to concentrate on any task for very long. This leads to difficulty in school, at work, or in relationships with other people.

There are three main types of ADHD, and people usually fall within one of these groupings: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined type. It is often difficult to diagnose ADHD accurately, and a few episodes of “strange behavior” are not enough to spot a real problem. Professionals will often monitor those suspected of suffering with ADHD over a longer period of time. Talk to your doctor if you suspect ADHD in your child or family member.



BED is the most commonly diagnosed eating disorder in the US. It afflicts millions of Americans, and is often misunderstood. Marked by frequent binge-eating (eating too much at one time, or far more than one should), BED is thought to be related to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. BED is linked to anorexia and bulimia nervosa — also eating disorders. Guilt is a common emotion related to the binge-eating behavior, or eating in secret; so many who suffer from this disease are often unlikely to seek help on their own.

Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of the drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using this drug.

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Watch Out for Narcotics: Real “Gateway Drugs” Are Found in Your Home

English: Drug overdose

English: Drug overdose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Public health professionals have compiled compelling data showing a strong relationship between prescription drug and street drug abuse. The theory is that once the easy supply of prescription drugs dries up, young people are likely to turn to more dangerous narcotics. Narcotic addiction is one of the worst afflictions to hit a happy family. The ramifications are catastrophic — physically, mentally, spiritually, and financially.

The key is preventing the abuse in the first place. This is the main goal of drop-off and disposal programs. Likewise, storing drugs in appropriate containers under lock and key is highly recommended. Treat controlled substances as deadly weapons, because they are. Better education and treatment options for those who develop addictions are also a necessity.


Keep Your Family Safe — Prescription Drugs Are Dangerous

Most people have cabinets or drawers full of old, unused prescription medications. Some of these can be quite dangerous, should they fall into the wrong hands. Throughout the country, these unused-prescriptions quietly threaten the homes in which they are hidden.

Prescription drug abuse is at epidemic proportions, especially among young people – as many as 1 in 5 teens admit to having taken medication not prescribed to them. More than 6 million kids 12 and older are abusing prescription drugs right now. 4 in 10 acquire these drugs from their parents’ or guardian’s medicine cabinet, often without those guardians’ knowledge. Teenagers don’t have to buy illegal drugs in seedy street alleys anymore; they can find addictive substances right in their own homes.


Disposal Programs Can Help

Many towns and cities have organized drop-off programs for unwanted prescriptions. These programs are typically over-seen by law enforcement, medical personnel and/or first responders. With such professionals in control of such programs, it is easy to drop-off the medications and know that they will be properly dealt with.

The federal government is on board with such programs, and has organized and funded pharmacy protocols to organize such drop-offs at the local community level. These rules went into effect October 9, 2014.

We now know that flushing old prescriptions down the toilette is a bad idea. It contributes to water pollution, and can enter the water table itself. And throwing old prescriptions away in the garbage was never a good idea. Anyone can scavenge the drugs out of the can, leading to further drug-abuse; as well as alerting possible criminals that such drugs can be found in your home.


Accidental Overdose

Despite the prevalence of childproof containers, thousands of children continue to visit emergency rooms each year; poisoned by prescription drugs. Most victims are less than 2 years of age. Improper storage is the leading cause of this problem. Research from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that just 12 types of medication account for 75% of all hospitalizations for accidental overdose in children.


Summing Up

Overdoses and prescription drug abuse can be prevented easily. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Follow your doctor’s instructions exactly. Always ask your doctor if you are unsure.
  2. Make sure medications are stored properly. Ask your pharmacy, if you are unsure how to do that. Lock up all prescriptions that hold potential for drug abuse (Especially pain medication).
  3. Find disposal programs near you, and take advantage of them. If there are none, contact your local pharmacy about the possibility of starting one in your area.


Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of a drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using any drug.

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Five Things Your Pharmacist Needs You to Know — TODAY

Portrait of happy pharmacist with prescription at pharmacy

You go to the pharmacy counter or drive-thru, you drop off your prescription, and then a short time later return to pick it up. In those few minutes, your pharmacist has worked carefully to guarantee you get the right dosage of the right medication, as well as checked that nothing in your medical records raises a red flag. What you may not realize is that your friendly pharmacist has so much more to offer. Here’s just a small sampling of what pharmacists would like their customers to know:


“I am THE expert on prescription medications.”

Pharmacists can answer virtually any question about prescription meds. After all, they’ve studied these compounds even more than doctors have. They know every possible adverse reaction, intended effects and available dosages for every drug they dispense. Moreover, for more than ten years now, licensed pharmacists have been required to hold the Pharm.D degree. In a sense, then, pharmacists are doctors, just a different kind.


“I can help you save money, if you ask.”

Probably more so than doctors, pharmacists understand that the high cost of health care today forces many people to make tough decisions and trade-offs. A caring professional can suggest generic or OTC alternatives, if appropriate. He or she can also point customers in the direction of discount plans offered by pharmaceutical companies and third parties like


“I want to be involved in your ongoing care.”

Your pharmacist should be an equal partner in your care, especially in the case of a chronic condition that may require long-term use of prescription medications. Keeping your pharmacist in the loop can help prevent errors before they happen. Similarly, a pharmacist who knows your history backwards and forwards can offer the kind of medication guidance that a doctor (or team of doctors) cannot. That’s why choosing one pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions is generally good advice.


“I’m often overworked…”

The demand for services at retail pharmacies often outstrips the supply of pharmacists and pharmacy techs, which can result in mistakes. Ask the pharmacy what kind of system they use to inventory their medications; barcoded shelves are ideal. Likewise, ask to be counseled if you have any questions at all regarding a new prescription, or if you need to report changes in your body’s response to a certain medication.


“…but I’m still paying attention.”

Pharmacists have eagle eyes for suspicious prescriptions, especially for controlled substances like painkillers. Many pharmacies now rely on state-run electronic databases to prevent drug-seekers from shopping at more than one location.


Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of a drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using any drug.


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Manufacturing and Supply of Execution Drugs Poses Moral Quandary for Pharmaceutical Industry

Syringe 5 with drops.

Syringe 5 with drops. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among the 32 states that allow lethal injection as an execution method, a problem has been brewing. Supplies of the drugs used to carry out these procedures are dwindling. For states where lethal injection is the only method, this problem is even more pronounced. Meanwhile, an increasing number of pharmaceutical companies are taking a stand against the use of their products in capital punishment.

Botched Executions

Most recently, an Oklahoma death row inmate was injected with the wrong drug. Potassium chloride is the component of the drug cocktail normally used to stop the heart, but Charles Frederick Warner was injected with potassium acetate instead, an industrial de-icing agent. Of course, it’s impossible to know if suffered because of the mix-up, but his death did take longer than it should have. In 2014, executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma were disturbingly slow and uncomfortable in part because the tranquilizer midazolam did not appear to be strong enough.

The Role of Compounding Pharmacies

Some states have turned to so-called compounding pharmacies to mix the individual chemicals used in lethal injection cocktails. These pharmacies produce customized combinations of drugs based on formulas provided by the buyer – usually a doctor or her patient. However, as with the major pharmaceutical companies, many compounding pharmacies are beginning to turn away requests for any drug combinations that could be used in lethal injections.

Other Alternative

The New York Times recently reported on the challenged faced by states that still conduct execution via lethal injection. Texas and Virginia have reportedly begun trading in execution drugs, one of several strategies states have employed to skirt regulations and deal with the tightening supply chains. Ohio and Nebraska attempted to purchase a specific drug from overseas, but the FDA stepped in and ruled the import of the drug illegal

States Respond With Moves Toward Secrecy

According to CBS News, Arkansas is just the latest state to attempt to solidify its execution secrecy laws. These laws protect the identity of drug manufacturers or distributors who supply lethal injection drugs. That law, and others like it, are currently being challenged in court. Such challenges have put capital punishment on hiatus in Arkansas and elsewhere.

Where Things Go From Here

The ethics of capital punishment are beyond the scope of a single newsletter. The issue instead is how the pharmaceutical industry is weighing the issue, and what recourse the various states will have should their usual supply lines be cut off. In addition, this developing story highlights how Big Pharma does indeed have a stake in public health and, as corporations that ultimately serve people, takes that obligation seriously.

Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of a drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using any drug.



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Specialty Pharmacies: A Growing Sector of the U.S. Pharmacy Industry

19th century Italian pharmacy

19th century Italian pharmacy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone is familiar with the growing national chain pharmacies that have more or less replaced the traditional corner drug store. These retail establishments can dispense all of the most commonly prescribed drugs, among other services like flu shots and wellness checks. A steady shift in the pharmaceutical industry, however, has led to a corresponding change in the pharmacy landscape. That change is the emergence of specialty pharmacies to meet the demand for specialty medications.


Defining the Specialty Pharmacy and Its Mission

Specialty pharmacies, as their name implies, fill prescriptions for specialty medications. Generally, these are medications for treating rare, complex and/or chronic conditions, and they come with a significantly higher price tag; some experts cite $750 prescriptions as the dividing line between pharmacy types, but many factors naturally affect this number. Some examples of specialty medications include those used to treat cancer, HIV, hemophilia and rare genetic disorders. For many patients, access to specialty medications is literally a matter of life and death.

Pharmacists working at these pharmacies are members of a team with specialized knowledge on the medications they dispense. Some medications have sophisticated dosing procedures for which patients and caregivers need hands-on training to execute correctly. Such training isn’t possible at a retail pharmacy.


Specialty Pharmacies by the Numbers

According to a New York Times story, specialty medications now account for about one-third of all pharmacy spending in the U.S. Analysts expect that ratio to climb to 50% within the next decade. Total specialty pharmacy sales reached about $78 billion in 2014.


Not Always a Perfect System

Any sector that grows rapidly will have bumps along the way, and specialty pharmacies are no different. One of the chief complaints often voiced against these businesses is their mail order system is less secure than simply walking into a retail location and getting a prescription the usual way. Some specialty pharmacies like CVS Health have taken this to heart and now allow customers to have medications shipped to a CVS retail store.

The intersection of health insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), pharmaceutical companies and specialty pharmacies has sometimes resulted in apparent conflicts of interest. In some instances, PBMs or health insurers also own a specialty pharmacy, pushing consumers down that channel to receive their medication and boosting revenue in the process. More than one lawsuit has been brought to combat this practice.


Here to Stay: Specialty Medications Will Become More Prevalent in Years to Come

As pharmaceutical research increasingly focuses on specialty medications, it’s not surprising that the number of pharmacies dispensing only these medications will grow substantially. The steady rise of genetic medicine might soon reach a tipping point where blockbuster new medications hit the market one after another. These medications could potentially be personalized based on the individual’s genetic makeup; they would be expensive, at least for the first several years. In addition, they would likely have complex dosing procedures, again requiring the expertise of a specialty pharmacy.


Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of a drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using any drug.

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Pharmacy School: A Challenging Road to a Meaningful Career of Helping People and Solving Problems

English: University of New England College of ...

English: University of New England College of Pharmacy in Portland, Maine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On your next visit to the local drugstore, consider for a moment just how much knowledge rests inside the mind of your friendly pharmacist. That knowledge did not accumulate by accident, of course; it resulted from focused study that may have begun as early as high school, but kicked into high gear at a pharmacy college.

If you’ve ever considered pharmacy college as an opportunity for yourself or perhaps a son or daughter, it pays to know upfront what’s needed to get in and get out with the appropriate credentials.


Cover Your Bases in Public School

Middle school and high school are where ambitious students build their foundation for lifetime success and fulfillment. As with many of the allied health fields, pharmacy and pharmacology call for a deep understanding of chemistry, biology and human health. Mathematics and communications skills are also highly prized. In other words, being a well-rounded student is a good plan.


Develop an Undergraduate Schedule of Pharmacy College Prerequisites

One of the more challenging aspects of getting into pharmacy college is that every institution is a little different with respect to their required courses, or prerequisites. Nearly every college will expect at least two levels of general chemistry, two levels of organic chemistry and one level of calculus. Likewise, most pharmacy colleges want students to have a grounding in physics, microbiology, English comprehension, speech and economics. Yet, because each college is different, one should investigate the prerequisites of the institutions they wish to apply to well ahead of time.


Study Hard for the Pharmacy College Admission Test

Also known as the PCAT, the Pharmacy College Admission Test is a requirement of most – but not all – pharmacy schools, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. The test consists of six distinct sections: Verbal Ability; Biology; Reading Comprehension; Quantitative Ability; Chemistry; and an experimental essay section that challenges test-takers to develop a solution to a health-related problem. The AACP provides numerous resources to help undergraduates fully prepare for this rigorous, timed test.


Expect a Rewarding Career in Every Way That Matters

Pharmacists are compensated well, that’s true. The median annual salary of a pharmacist in 2012 was just over $116,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, it’s equally true the work they perform is an incredibly vital link in the healthcare chain. People often see pharmacists as much or more often than their doctors. An attentive and caring pharmacist can sometimes spot a medication error that a prescribing physician has overlooked, perhaps saving a life in the process.


Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of a drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using any drug.

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Doctor or Pharmacist: Which One Should I Ask?

You have a lot of health questions. There are so many diseases and disorders, many of which have names that we can barely pronounce. Not to mention the drugs used to treat these illnesses; their names seem like alphabet blocks scattered by a child. Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), it seems that doctors and pharmacists are busier than ever. Most of us are lucky to get 15 minutes of a doctor’s time, and the lines at the pharmacy get longer and longer. But it’s vital that you understand your care, and that you ask questions whenever you are confused about a diagnosis or a prescription.

So, who do you ask? Let’s start with a quick look at the training received by both doctors and pharmacists.


There are many types of medical specialists out there: cardiologists (heart doctors), endocrinologists (glandular doctors), and oncologists (cancer doctors), to name just a few. All of them have extensive training, beyond that of a general practicing MD (medical doctor). For our purposes, though, we’ll just focus on the training received by your family doctor, who is probably a general practitioner.

After high school, he or she first went to college for four years. They probably majored in biology, anatomy, pre-med, physics, chemistry, or something science-related to receive their BS degree (Bachelors of Science). It’s also possible, though, that your doctor majored in the humanities before going on to medical school, receiving a BA instead (Bachelors of Arts). Regardless of which degree your doctor first earned, it probably had a heavy science focus.

After that first degree, your doctor then spent four years at an undergraduate medical school, licensed by the LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education). There they focused on the practice of medicine as a whole, pharmacology (study of drugs), biology and anatomy, as well as advanced medical theory. After those four years, your doctor spent an additional three to seven years in a residency. During that time, he or she trained one-on-one with licensed, experienced doctors in the field.


Pharmacists begin their prescription drug training early. After high school, they too spent four years in college. But pharmacists (to be eligible for advanced pharmacy training) had to focus at least two of those years on subjects like calculus, anatomy, physics, biology, sociology, and of course, chemistry.

After they received their BS, pharmacists then spent an additional four years in an accredited Pharmacy School. There they received intense training in pharmacology (the study of drugs, and drug actions on living creatures), drug interactions, and ethics, in addition to spending a lot of time getting hands-on training with licensed pharmacists. Because they deal with the public on a routine basis; pharmacists also usually study communication and managerial subjects. To understand how drugs work, and the need for certain prescription chemicals, pharmacists are aware of the disease process to some degree.

So, Which One Do I Ask?

Now it probably becomes much more clear which professional you should direct your questions to. Both doctors and pharmacists are familiar with human biology, the disease process, and prescription drug knowledge. Either is a good choice for general questions related to any of these topics.

Doctors, however, are far more familiar with how the human body works, and how it begins to malfunction when disease or disorder strikes. You should take any specific concerns about your condition or the nature of your disease straight to your family doctor. In addition to understanding disease, your doctor will also be familiar with your particular health-history and is better able to see how that history affects you as a whole. The family doctor is also very familiar with prescription drugs, and knows which prescriptions best help treat your health challenges. A medical doctor is also the only one who can prescribe those drugs.

As far as prescription drug knowledge goes, though, no one beats the pharmacist. He or she’s training places them in a unique position to understand the exact nature of how your prescriptions work. They must follow the orders and prescriptions of your doctor of course, but if you have any further questions related to what your doctor has prescribed, or why: it’s best to ask your pharmacist. They are trained in customer service and, generally, have more time to discuss your prescriptions with you at length. Pharmacists also have a detailed knowledge of drug-interactions, and work hard to ensure that you are not prescribed something that will interact badly with other prescriptions you are taking (something a doctor doesn’t always catch).


Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of a drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using any drug.Creative Commons License German Tenorio via Compfight

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What Is a Health Screening: And Should You Get One at a Pharmacy?

English: taking blood pressure in PE

English: taking blood pressure in PE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies have proven that periodic health screenings are an affordable way to increase a patient’s lifespan. Such screenings have been a staple of family-practice physicians for many decades. In recent history, though, pharmacies and medical supply companies have begun to offer such screenings — as a cost-effective way to promote good health, and a convenient means for advertisement for their services.

Simply put, screenings are a way to check for illnesses, usually before a patient begins to notice any specific symptoms. Patients who are concerned that they may be at risk for illness, or patients who have family histories of specific diseases, are encouraged to screen early and often.

A list of possible illnesses and risk factors tested-for in a medical screening might include: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Many of the tests used to search for indications of these diseases are simple and easy.


A simple fasting plasma-glucose check can alert patients whether they may be at risk for Type II Diabetes. If such a test is positive, a doctor might then administer an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). Both tests should be given by a trained physician, preferably a family doctor. Simple glucose-monitoring tests may be offered at a public health-screening, but a doctor is in a better position to assess a patient’s risk for Type II Diabetes.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) is one the most-commonly screened conditions at community health fairs and pharmacies. Over the years, modern technology has provided simple but accurate tools to assess a patient’s blood pressure, as the parameters for high/low blood pressure are well known. Blood pressure checks can be administered by anyone trained to use a blood pressure cuff; but one high or low reading is not an accurate diagnosis. Patients should always follow-up a high/low blood pressure reading with a visit to a physician, who will then decide whether further testing is necessary.

High Cholesterol

Patients with chronic high cholesterol are at significant risk for both stroke and coronary artery disease (CAD). There are portable cholesterol-measuring devices which might be available at health fairs and pharmacies. These tests are usually given by trained professionals. However, high cholesterol is a condition that should be closely monitored by a physician, and any such cholesterol testing should be followed up by a visit to the family doctor.


Obesity (weight out of proportion for height and age) is a risk-factor for numerous diseases. Testing for obesity is simple, and often relies on Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat, based on a patient’s age, gender, height, and weight. Numerous methods are used to calculate BMI, including a tape-measurement of the waist, a measurement of waist-to-hip ratio, body-fat measuring using a caliper (two-armed measuring device), and even weight measurements under water. Although obesity can be measured at a pharmacy or health fair, it is still important that patients later speak with a physician to understand the health risks involved with such a condition.


Testing for STDs, specifically HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), has become much easier over the years. Mouth swabs and simple blood tests can yield accurate results in less than an hour. However, any patient who receives a positive test result should immediately seek a physician for follow-up testing and diagnosis, as well as counseling to help manage the emotional ramifications of a positive HIV test.


No Substitute for the Family Doctor

Pharmacies and health fairs can be great starting points for health screening. Many tests for disease risk-factors have become quite simplified, enabling even those outside of the medical profession to yield accurate test results. It is important to remember, though, that such tests cannot replace the care of a trained medical professional. Patients should always follow up any troubling reading from a health-screening with a visit to their primary care physician.


Note: The information above is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It should not be construed to indicate that use of a drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. Consult your healthcare professional before using any drug.

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