More than half of Americans take at least one prescription medication, and 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: general use, what to expect, and situational questions,” says Erin Fox, PharmD, associate chief pharmacy officer of Pharmacy Services at University of Utah Health.
Here are questions you should be asking about your prescription medications:
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 be taken near bedtime.
How should I store this medication?
Proper storage of medications ensures they work effectively. Most medications need to be stored in a cool, dry place. “That place may not be your bathroom medicine cabinet,” Fox says. “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 such as:
- Side effects
- Efficacy data
- Personal medical history
- Other medications you are taking
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 common and extremely rare side effects.
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 and even herbals.
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,” Fox says. “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,” Fox says. “With others, you may just resume with a normal dose.” Some prescriptions—like birth control—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 how a medication will affect them and their unborn child as well. “Many medications can cross the placenta and cause harm to the fetus,” Fox says. “There are also drugs that can put a mother at risk.”
The Mother to Baby line can be a great resource for medication questions during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Medications can improve your life and, in some cases, save your life. 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, knowledge is power,” Fox says.