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What to Ask Your Doctor About a New Prescription

cartoon hand writing out prescription

Most people know that taking medicines can play an important role in health care. But when a doctor suggests taking a new drug, many patients forget to ask questions about their prescribed medication. Being informed about your medications is an essential part of managing your health. Please continue reading to find out some of the questions to ask at a doctor’s appointment when you are given a new prescription.

What should I ask about my prescription?

There is some basic information about a new medication that you must know before leaving your doctor’s office. If you are being started on a new medicine, be sure to ask the following questions.

1. What is the name of the medicine?

Many medications are available as generic versions and under various brand names. Sometimes, one version cannot be substituted for the other because they contain different ingredients or doses. You should know exactly what the medicine you are prescribed is called and the formulation (tablet, capsule, solution, inhaler, etc.).

2. Why am I taking this medicine? What condition will it treat?

You should know what a medication is for and the condition it will treat. This will help you take an active role in your health care.

3. How often should I take the medicine?

Before you leave your doctor’s office, make sure you understand how often you have to take the medicine. Some medications are taken as needed, while others are taken on a schedule. Following these instructions is important for your health and safety. 

4. How am I supposed to take this medicine?

Some medications should be taken with food, others on an empty stomach. Some medications are taken at night, while others are taken first thing in the morning or during the day. If you have to take medicine several times a day, ask about timing. In other words, if your prescription label says 4 times a day, ask exactly when you should take the drug.

5. How long will the medicine take to work? How will I know it’s working?

One of the reasons people stop taking medicine is because they feel it isn’t working. However, some medications can take several weeks to become fully effective. Knowing how long a medication takes to work will tell you what to expect in terms of symptom relief. Sometimes, it’s easy to know medication is working. For example, if you have a sinus infection and get relief of symptoms. At other times, your health care professional may ask you to report back, for example, with your blood pressure numbers, to see whether a medicine is working. Make sure you understand the treatment plan, i.e., how long you have to take the medication.

6. How should I store the medicine? 

Some medications can be stored at room temperature. Others need to be refrigerated. Failure to store the medicine properly can make it ineffective or unsafe. 

7. What are the most common side effects of this medication?

Many medication side effects are minor and go away once your body gets used to the drug. If you know what to expect, you will be better prepared to handle how you feel on a new medication. You should also ask your doctor when to report side effects. Do not stop taking the medication without medical advice. Ask your doctor about the signs and symptoms of a medical emergency. 

8. What should I do if I miss a dose?

Most of the time, a missed medication dose is not serious. However, in some cases missing even one dose can reduce the drug's effectiveness or be dangerous. Make sure you get instructions from your doctor about a missed dose. 

9. Does this medicine conflict with other medicines I take?

Interactions between different medications can make one or both drugs ineffective or increase the chances of severe side effects. Give your healthcare providers a complete list of your current medications, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements. They may prescribe a different medication if there are known drug interactions.

10. Are there any cheaper alternatives to this medication?

If your doctor prescribes a new drug, ask about alternatives. Sometimes there is a different medicine that works equally well but is cheaper. In general, the generic form will cost significantly less than the brand names and is more likely to be covered by insurance.

11. Do I need to avoid anything while taking this medication?

It is not safe to drink alcohol while taking certain drugs. Your doctor may also advise you to avoid other things like driving or operating heavy machinery, taking certain over-the-counter medications, or eating some types of food with some prescriptions.

12. Can lifestyle changes treat the same condition?

It is possible to treat many medical conditions with lifestyle changes. Ask your doctor if this is the case for your condition. You may need medication treatment at the current time, but with lifestyle changes, you can take a lower dose or discontinue the drug in the future. For example, if you lose weight, your blood sugar may be better controlled, and you may be able to discontinue your insulin or other medications.

How do you ask for a new prescription?

The refill information for your prescription medication will likely be printed on the label. Depending on your diagnosis or treatment plan, you may need to take a drug for a long time, even indefinitely. You can get refills by:

  • Going to the pharmacy in person
  • Calling the pharmacy on the phone
  • Ordering a refill online or through a smartphone app (you will still have to go to the pharmacy to pick up your prescription)
  • Ordering a refill by mail (this is a convenient option if you take a medication every day to manage a chronic health condition--you can get a supply for several months at a time)

What do I ask the pharmacist about over-the-counter medications?

You can buy over-the-counter medications (OTC medications) at a pharmacy without a prescription. These are drugs commonly used to treat aches and pains and other minor health conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decides whether a medicine is safe to be sold over the counter. However, it’s important to read the package instructions carefully to avoid mistakes. Your pharmacist can also provide medical advice about an OTC drug. Here are some questions to ask your pharmacist or family medicine doctor about OTC medicines:

  • What are the active and inactive ingredients in this medicine? This is important to know in case you are allergic to specific compounds.
  • Does this OTC medicine interact with any prescription drugs, dietary supplements, foods, or beverages?
  • Is this OTC medicine right for me? Some medicines are not right for people with certain medical conditions. For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol) may not be right for people with liver disease. 
  • How quickly will this over the counter medication work? If your symptoms do not improve after treatment with an OTC medicine, you should get professional medical advice because there could be something more serious going on.
  • Is this OTC medication safe during pregnancy? If you are pregnant, it is advisable to check with your doctor before taking any medicine.
  • Can I give this OTC medicine to my child? Some medications are not safe for children. Others can be given to children but only at a lower dose. Make sure you read the instructions on the package carefully for the correct dose in children. Ask your pharmacist if you are not sure. 


References

  1. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resources-you-drugs/medicines-and-you-guide-older-adults#know
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3934668/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3711878/
  4. https://medlineplus.gov/overthecountermedicines.html