Medications: What to Ask Your Doctor

For all of the good they do in the world, medications can also be extremely risky. Even if you take your medication exactly as you're supposed to, you could still suffer side effects. Taking the wrong pill at the wrong time in the wrong way will only increase the danger.

If your doctor recommends a prescription drug, you need to become an expert in your own treatment. Your doctor needs to be informed, too. Make sure he or she knows about every other medicine (prescription or over-the-counter) that you're already taking. Bring a list with you or give your doctor a bag full of your medicine bottles. This will help you avoid taking more medications than really necessary. It will also reduce the risk that one drug will clash with another.

Above all, be prepared to ask questions. If you don't understand, ask again. Bring along a notebook so you can write down anything that you'll need to remember later. If needed, bring another person with you who can help you sort through the information.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about the medication:

  • What is the name of the drug?
  • What do you expect the medication to do?
  • How long will it take to work?
  • How do I take this medicine?
  • Should I avoid any particular foods or beverages while taking this medicine?
  • What are the common side effects? Is there a way to reduce the chance of developing them?
  • What should I do if I notice side effects? Could any side effects be dangerous enough to require emergency treatment?
  • Do you have any patients who've used this medication? If so, how well has it worked?
  • Do I have any other options besides taking this medication?
  • What will happen if I don't take it?
  • What if I miss a dose?
  • What if I take too much?
  • Do I need to finish the whole bottle?
  • Do you have any free samples of this medication?
  • Could I save money by taking a generic version of this medicine?
  • Could you please write down the name of the medication and the reason Im taking it for me?
  • Where can I get more information about this medication?

References

American Medical Association. Talk to your doctor about medications. http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/370/medication-safety.pdf

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Questions to ask before taking medicine. http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/safemeds/safeques.htm

UC San Francisco. Questions to ask your doctor. 2010. http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/questions_to_ask_your_doctor/

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