Published January 24, 2012
All too often, patients get a prescription from their doctor, run to their local pharmacy to have it filled, and start taking it blindly.
But before heading out the doctor’s door, experts say there are important questions patients need to ask. From how the drug will interact with existing medications, to possible alternatives, consumers need to be their own advocate when it comes to prescription drugs.
“It’s really important to ask what the prescription is and why you need it,” says Dr. Hansa Bhargava, WebMD’s medical editor for pediatrics. “Patient advocacy is really important.”
By creating a dialogue in the doctor’s office, consumers can better manage their care and become more informed in their treatment, says Epocrates Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Thomas Giannulli.
Question: How will it impact my lifestyle?
Consumers should know the side effects of a drug: will they become too lethargic to work out or play on the company softball team? Should they plan for more sleep?
Some drugs suppress users’ appetites making it important they track their diets, while others lead to weight gain. Some drugs alter moods and can lead to depression, according to Giannulli. “Doctors can provide alternatives,” if you don’t like the side effects, he says.
On top of how the drug will impact daily life, Bhargava at WebMD says it’s important patients ask for any alternatives to the drug or any they should be taking in conjunction with it.
It’s also good for patients to ask about any lifestyle changes they can make to help increase the effectiveness or mitigate any side effects of a drug.
Question: How long should I take the medication?
Consumers should ask how long the doctor plans to keep them on a medicine. Is it a one-time cycle, or several months and multiple refills?
It’s also important patients ask how their progress will be monitored, says Bhargava. Will there be regular blood tests? Six-month checkups? Or will they simply start feeling better after a few weeks?
Question: What are the interactions with other drugs?
These days, many people are taking multiple medications, which is why you have to ask your doctor about possible bad interactions when prescriptions are mixed. “There’s a lot of risks with drug interaction,” says Giannulli at Epocrates. “You might have decreased liver function or some other health concerns related to the medication.” While your doctor should be on top of the drugs he prescribes, he or she may not know what specialists you are seeing and thus what other medications you are on. “You should really be your own advocate and have an active list of medications,” says Giannulli.
Question: Is there a cheaper alternative?
Insurance doesn’t cover all prescriptions, so Giannulli recommends patients ask about the price of a medication and whether there is a cheaper option. The doctor may be able to prescribe a cheaper generic drug, or provide samples.