Millions of Americans take prescribed medications. Yet few patients ask about the medications, the purpose, if there are drug interactions with their existing medications, the cost, and most important of all, the side effects of the medications. This blog will discuss the questions you should ask your doctor when you are given a new prescription.
One study reported that doctors spent an average of 12 seconds talking about a new medication’s side effects, and in another report, fewer than 50% of physicians covered the topic of side effects at all.
Luckily, doctors love to answer questions. If you can guide the conversation with relevant questions, you’ll (1) get better information, (2) participate in the decision, and (3) leave with confidence instead of confusion about your new prescription.
Before you walk out the door with that new prescription I suggest that you do the following:
• Ask for the generic name as well as the trade name of the medication?
• What does it do? (conditions it treats, how it works)
• What are the benefits? For example:
Does it just lower your blood sugar or cholesterol, or has it actually been shown to prevent strokes, heart attacks, or other health events? There are some drugs that just change your lab results without altering your health risks and you may not want to treat your numbers on a lab report.
How many people taking the drug does it actually help? (Drugs have varying rates of response — for example, 50% for many anti depressant meds.)
What are the risks?
How many people taking the drug have side effects?
What side effects are common? Are they temporary?
Any severe side effects?
What side effects should you call your doctor about if you have them?
Are there alternatives?
◦ Other types of medications
◦ Drug-free alternatives. (Exercise is more effective than drugs at reducing your risk of death from certain causes.)
How do you take it?
Does it interact with any of your current health conditions, other medications, supplements, foods, or alcohol?
Timing: How long does it take to start working? Can you stop taking it if you feel better?
What if you miss a dose?
Is any monitoring required? (Some medications can affect kidney function, for example, so it’s checked periodically with a blood test.)
How much does it cost? Is there a generic version available?
Bottom Line: If you are armed with these questions and ask your doctor and get answers to these important questions, then you will be a better informed and a healthier patient.