Published April 23, 2013
Just because you’ve received doctor’s orders, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask follow-up questions. When receiving a new prescription, experts urge patients to start a discussion with their physician to make sure the treatment is the best option.
“Many studies have shown that compliance with medications is tightly tied to the relationship between the patient and the physician,” says Paul Griner, an internist and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Patients need to relate easily with their doctor in terms of what medication they are taking and why.”
Face time with a doctor tends to be in short supply nowadays, but patients should not be afraid to speak up and ask these critical questions when receiving a new prescription.
Question No.1: What does the drug do?
This might seem like an obvious question, but it often gets overlooked because patients are too focused on the problem.
Patients should also learn why the doctor chose that medication. According to Peter Kurzweil, an internist and HealthTap founding member, patients should also inquire about the ramifications of not taking the medication. “It gives the person a way of understanding…that there is clear evidence that taking the medication will benefit the individual and not taking the medication will lead to some harm of the individual,” he says.
Question No.2: How will the drug interact with other medications?
Patients taking other prescriptions and over-the-counter medications should inquire about any possible interactions. “If it’s a new medicine, you should ask: ‘will this work safely with the other medicines?’ that demands an answer,” says Ray Bullman, executive vice president of the National Council on Patient Information and Education. Patients should come prepared with a list of their already-prescribed medications and their side effects to make it easy to identify any problems.
Question No.3: How long will I be on the medication?
Medications work at different speeds, and some prescriptions might be short term while others will become part of a patients’ life.
It’s also important to know when a drug is expected to start working as well as the goals of a treatment. “Are there specific end points that the physician and the patient will be aiming for?” Kurzweil suggests asking.
Question No.4: How do I take the medicine and at what intervals?
Non adherence to medicine is a common and costly problem for the U.S health-care system and top reason why people don’t take their medication properly is because they simply don’t know how and when.
For instance, some medications should be taken on an empty stomach while others need food. “It’s always good to ask how to take it in the context of meals,” says Griner.
An equally important question is how to space out the doses. Griner says people prescribed drugs to take four times a day will typically take it at breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime, which may not be ideal if they are going eight to 10 hours between doses. “Unfortunately many physicians don’t go into detail on how to use the medicine and under what circumstances.”
Question No.5: What are the side effects?
Every drug has side effects, but some are worse than others. Kurzweil says patients should ask the doctor about minor and major side effects both short and long term.
“Related to adverse effects, what symptoms would be appropriate for you to know about? Can I stop the medication immediately if I'm having a problem? How soon should I follow up with you?” are all questions to ask, he says.