By Libby Mitchell, University of Utah Health
Almost half of Americans are on some sort of prescription medication. Too many are taking pills that they know far too little about. You can avoid being one of them if you know the right questions to ask before your provider writes you a prescription. “The questions fall into three basic categories,” said Erin Fox, Pharm.D., director of Drug Information Service for University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. “There are questions about general use, what to expect, and situational questions. Pharmacists are experts on medication use and are available answer questions you may have.”
General Use Questions
How will this medication help me?
This is the most basic question you need answered. After all, why take a medication if you don’t know what it will do. Even if you have a basic understanding your doctor may be able to provide additional information on how the medication works and when you can expect it to take effect.
How do I take this medication?
This question is about more than if you swallow a pill or rub something on your skin. You need to know if it should be taken with food, or if it should (or shouldn’t) be taken near bedtime.
How should I store this medication?
Proper storage of medications ensures they work effectively. Most medications, but not all, need to be stored in a cool, dry place. “That place may not be your bathroom medicine cabinet,” said Fox. “The heat and moisture from a shower or sink could cause damage to your medications.”
Why this medication instead of another?
Your provider may choose one drug over another for different reasons like cost, side effects, or specific efficacy data. “Your personal history can also play a part,” said Fox. “Other medications you are taking, and allergies you may have can impact the decision.”
What to Expect Questions
What side effects and risks can I expect? When should I report them?
You need to understand all the side effects of a medication from the mundane to the possibly life threatening. You also need to understand which side effects are common, and which are extremely rare. “Have your doctor walk you through scenarios when you need to seek medical attention,” said Fox. “It’s important to understand serious side effects and their symptoms.”
What should I avoid when taking this medication?
If you fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, your pharmacist can automatically double check any drug interactions. If not, make sure your pharmacy knows about all of your medications, including any over the counter items or even herbals. “Your doctor will be able to tell you what to avoid from medications to food,” said Fox.
Is there a generic version available?
Medications are expensive, and we all want to save money when we can. But there are other reasons you may want to skip a name brand in favor of a generic as well. “Some insurance plans won’t cover a branded drug if a generic is available,” said Fox. “And even if your plan covers both the out of pocket costs can vary greatly.”
What should I do if I skip a dose?
It happens, so you need to know the impacts and how to proceed. “With some drugs you may have to take a double dose as your next dose,” said Fox. “With others you may just resume with a normal dose. And there are some drugs (like birth control) that may have special instructions because of risks associated with missing a dose.”
What if I’m pregnant?
Women who are pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant need to know not only how a medication will affect them, but their unborn child as well. “Many medications can cross the placenta and cause harm to the fetus,” said Fox. “There are also drugs that can put a mother to be at risk.”
Medications can improve your life and, in some cases, be life-saving. It only takes a few minutes to ask your pharmacist or doctor the right questions to make sure you are using them safely and effectively. “When it comes to proper medication use it’s absolutely true that knowledge is power,” said Fox.
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