Nearly 70 percent of Americans take at least one medication. But how much do you know about the prescriptions you are taking? Individuals who understand their medications, discuss them openly with their providers, and follow the recommended instructions are more likely to feel better, avoid side effects, and prevent interactions.
Every October, during Talk About Your Medicines Month, Summit Health shines a spotlight on the importance of having an open dialogue with your providers about medications. “This month is an opportunity to empower patients and health care providers to discuss medications and ensure their use is safe, effective, and appropriate for the intended indications,” says Gwen Egloff-Du, PharmD, BCPS, a clinical pharmacist at Summit Health. “Open and frequent communication with providers and pharmacists ensures any discrepancies are identified as early as possible.”
Here are 10 pro tips that can help you get the most benefit from your prescriptions.
1. Talk to your providers openly about the medicines you take.
Whenever you visit the doctor, they always ask for a current list of medications. It is essential for patients to review the medicines they take with their entire health care team, including nurses, physicians, and pharmacists, at every step in their care. That does not just include prescription drugs—be sure to list any over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins or herbal supplements.
Pro tip: “When patients openly discuss their medications, it allows providers to identify if patients are unclear on how to take them, why they are taking them, or if they are having trouble affording them. This also helps confirm that the patient’s medical conditions are being treated with the best possible regimen and can help to identify if any interactions exist between drugs or conditions.”
2. Let your pharmacist help you save money.
Talk About Your Medicines Month is an opportunity to make sure you are taking the most effective and safe regimen. It is also a time to reflect upon the most cost-effective ways to get your medication. When individuals have trouble affording their medications, it can make it more difficult to follow the treatment plan prescribed by their doctor.
Pro tip: “Your pharmacist can help to suggest more cost-effective alternatives to your prescriber that will make it easier for you to take your medicine as intended.”
3. Be up front about all your medical conditions and allergies.
Withholding information from your physician can significantly impact your care. It is essential that every provider you see is not only made aware of all your medications, but also your medical conditions and allergies.
Pro tip: “Depending on your conditions, some treatments can be considered either more or less appropriate. Certain medical conditions can also influence how you react to medications.”
4. Fill prescriptions at the same pharmacy.
Every year there are 1.3 million emergency room visits caused by adverse drug events. As people age and take more medication, the risk of these interactions increases. Using the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions ensures that your entire medication list is assessed for drug interactions every time you request a refill.
Pro tip: “I cannot stress enough how important it is to fill all prescriptions at the same pharmacy. Filling your medications at different pharmacies can lead to drug interactions, adverse events, and poor outcomes.”
5. Ask questions when you are prescribed a new medication.
Be a partner in your care. When your physician writes a script for a new drug, make sure you understand why you are taking the medication. You can also ask your pharmacist about any questions or concerns you may have.
Pro tip: “When starting a new medication, it is most helpful to know why you are taking the medication, when and how often you need to take it, as well as the most common side effects to monitor when initiating treatment. Be sure to ask your provider or pharmacist if there are any known interactions with specific foods or medications you are already taking.”
6. Use medications as prescribed and follow the instructions in the pamphlet.
Any medicine, whether prescription or over the counter, should be used exactly as directed on the bottle. Many medications have warning labels or instructions, such as take with food, avoid heavy lifting, or stay out of direct sunlight. Talk to your doctor before you make any changes. For example, do not stop taking a course of antibiotics early because you feel better or use extra pain medications because you are not experiencing relief. Your prescriber should be consulted before any changes are made, including increasing or decreasing the dose or stopping the medication altogether.
Pro tip: “The printouts that accompany prescription medications contain a lot of important information, but they can also be very overwhelming to review. Focus on the Patient Counseling section, which highlights the most important information patients need to know when taking their medication.”
7. Know that taking your dose with or without food makes a difference.
Some medicines must be taken with food, while others are more effective on an empty stomach. Other medications need to be separated from specific types of food or vitamins so that they absorb into the body better. This information will be in the Patient Counseling section of the pamphlet attached to your prescription. If you are ever unsure, simply ask your pharmacist.
Pro tip: “Always ask your pharmacist if it is okay to take your medication with food. Taking your medications with food can help to prevent an upset stomach. This helps to improve adherence by pairing medication taking with mealtime.”
8. Understand the side effects.
Most medications have side effects. When you start a new prescription, it is important to be aware of the different ways it may affect you. This will allow you to monitor how your body is reacting to the new drug and track any reactions you may need to discuss with your physician.
Pro tip: “Some side effects are dose-dependent, meaning they present more prominently at higher doses. In these instances, lowering the dose can alleviate the side effects. Some can occur even at the lowest doses. Make sure you are aware of the side effects your provider wants you to monitor and that you report them to the office so your provider can adjust your treatment if needed.”
9. Write down medication directions.
It can be hard to remember everything you want to discuss during your visit. Going to your doctor’s appointment with a prepared list of questions can help you gather your thoughts. When your doctor gives you instructions, write down notes and review them when you get home.
Pro tip: “Life is busy, and no one should be required to remember everything. Patients should use whatever platform is most comfortable to them, whether it be an app on their phone or pen and paper to jot down notes, questions, and concerns in advance of a visit with their provider.”
10. Rely on your pharmacist — they are the medication experts!
When you check out at the pharmacy, the cashier almost always asks “do you have any questions for your pharmacist?” If you do, say ‘“yes.” There is no need to be shy. Pharmacists understand all the different medications, and they are there to help you.
Pro tip: “Pharmacists are a phenomenal resource for all your questions, including when and how to take your medications, side effects to monitor, and interactions to be aware of.”