by Karen Lee Richards, ChronicPainConnection Expert
When it comes to medication safety, your doctor, your pharmacist and you need to work together as a team. It's your doctor's responsibility to prescribe the most appropriate medication for you; it's your pharmacist's responsibility to accurately fill your prescription as it is written; and it's your responsibility to take the prescription exactly as directed.
Since it's your body and your health that could be at risk, you have both the right and the responsibility to know everything you can about the medications you are taking. In effect, you are the team leader and you're the one who should ask the necessary questions to make sure nothing is overlooked.
10 Questions for Your Doctor
Any time your doctor gives you a new prescription, be sure to get the answers to these questions:
- What is the name of the medication (both generic and brand names)?
- What am I taking this medication for?
- Does this medication replace another medication I am currently taking or should I take it in addition to what I already take?
- How often should I take this medication (at bedtime, twice a day, as needed, etc.)?
- When should I take this medication? (for example, if I'm to take it three times a day, does that mean at breakfast, lunch and dinner, or once every eight hours?)
- How long will I be taking this medication (until I feel better, until it's gone, indefinitely, etc.)?
- Can I get refills? If so, how many times can it be refilled without another appointment?
- How soon should I expect to start feeling better?
- What are the possible side effects of this medication?
- What should I do if I experience any side effects?
Information Your Pharmacist Should Give You
Whenever you fill a prescription, your pharmacist should give you a Consumer Medical Information Sheet (CMI). Read the prescription label and the CMI carefully before taking any of the medication. If you do not find the following information, ask your pharmacist.
- When and how the medication should be taken.
- Things that should be avoided while taking this medication that might cause dangerous drug interactions or severe adverse reactions (for example, other medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), supplements, foods, alcohol, activities, etc.).
- Any ingredient that might cause you to have an allergic reaction.
- Possible side effects (both common and rare).
- What to do if you forget to take a dose.
- How to store the medication.
- Expiration date.
- If it's safe to use during pregnancy or while breast feeding (if applicable).
Doing Your Part
In addition to asking the appropriate questions and educating yourself on the medications you are taking, you have to take your medications properly. Follow the dosing instructions carefully. If you experience a troublesome side effect or any unusual reaction, call your doctor -- even if it's not listed as a possible side effect on the CMI.
It's also important that both your doctor and your pharmacist have a current list of everything you take so they don't inadvertently give you something that could cause a serious drug interaction. The list should include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbal supplements, and medicinal creams or ointments.
"Your Medicine: Play it Safe." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. February 2003
Last updated: September 30, 2007