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Prescribed a new medication? Be sure to ask these 6 questions before you leave the doctor’s office

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Taking a new prescription drug can leave you with questions. Find out this information before you leave your visit.

You’re at the doctor’s office and they’ve just prescribed you a new medication. Maybe you’re not clear on how the drug works, or whether it has side effects.

Now is the time to ask your doctor questions. That’s because learning more about your medications is a key way to take charge of your health.

Your provider will likely go over the basics with you. “When I prescribe, I don’t do it lightly, and there is a good purpose behind it,” says Mark Zaetta, MD. He’s an Optum internal medicine specialist in Tucson, Arizona. “I lead to a conversation about my patients’ concerns.”

For starters, you want to be crystal clear about what the name of the medication is, what health condition it was prescribed for and exactly how to take it. But you should also feel comfortable asking other questions too. Here are six important ones to cover.

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Question #1: What can I expect with this new drug?

The goal with any prescription is to treat an existing health problem or prevent future problems. While all drugs have some side effects, many of them are minor, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.1

They will be different depending on what health condition you’re being treated for and which medicine you’re prescribed.

Your doctor will be able to give you some idea of what you can expect with a new prescription. Here are some specific things to ask:2

  • How will I feel once I start taking this medicine?
  • How long will it take to work?
  • How will I know if this medicine is working?
  • Is this drug safe to take if I’m pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant?
  • What side effects could I have?

Question #2: Could this drug interfere with other medications I’m taking?

Do you regularly take more than one prescription? Plenty of us do. In fact, 24% of U.S. adults are on three or more prescriptions.3

Ask if the new medicine you’ve been prescribed can change how your other medicines work. That includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and dietary supplements.4

For example, a drug you take to help you sleep can interact with an allergy medication and slow down your reaction time. That can make driving dangerous, according to the National Institute on Aging.4

Dr. Zaetta says that his office reviews all the patient’s medications before the appointment starts. “You can also bring in a bag with all of your medicines to your visit, so they can review them with you,” he says.

During that medication review, you can also tell your doctor about any medications that may have caused allergic reactions in the past. That way they’ll know what medications will be dangerous to you by themselves.

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Question #3: How should I keep track of the drugs that I take?

Maybe this is the first drug you’ve been prescribed. Or you already take a few others. Having a system in place to take the right dose at the right time is a smart approach.

“Some drugs are more important than others to take in a timely regimen,” says Dr. Zaetta. Two examples: coagulant drugs that prevent blood clots and medications for diabetes.

Your doctor can suggest ways to help you manage your medications. Some tips:

  • Follow the exact dosage and timing of each medication.
  • Note which medications you need to take on an empty stomach or with food.
  • Put your daily medication routine on a calendar or chart.5 Keep the schedule in a place you’ll easily see it, such as the refrigerator door or on a kitchen cabinet. You can also use your smartphone or tablet calendar to keep track.
  • Set a timer on your phone or watch for regular reminders. Or, you can download a medicine reminder app.
  • Use a pill box to stay organized. “Keep a week’s worth in the pill organizer and the rest of it the bottles,” recommends Dr. Zaetta.

Even with the best system in place, you may end up missing a dose here or there. Be sure to ask your doctor what to do in case you miss a dose.

Question #4: How should I store my medication?

Storing your medicines properly can help ensure that they work the way they should. Heat, air, light and moisture can all cause your prescription drugs to be less effective.5 And some medications need to be stored in the refrigerator.

It’s often best to keep medications in a cool, dry place.5 For example, it’s better for them to be inside a kitchen cabinet that is away from the sink and stove than on the countertop. Another place to avoid putting your medications: in the bathroom. It can get steamy, hot and moist. Those conditions can be bad for them too.

Be sure to ask your doctor about any specific storage instructions.

Question #5: What should I do if I don’t feel well after starting a new medication?

Sometimes your body might not react well to a new medicine. “And sometimes a patient is hesitant to take a drug, so they think they are having side effects from it,” says Dr. Zaetta. Call your doctor or pharmacist if you think you’re experiencing side effects.

One caution: You never want to stop taking a medicine without discussing it with your doctor first.2 “If it’s something like a rash, make a phone call to your physician or provider so they can consider prescribing a different medication,” says Dr. Zaetta.

If you are having a severe reaction, call 911. “If it involves breathing problems, a tightening of the throat or difficulty swallowing, that is an emergency,” says Dr. Zaetta.

Question #6: How much does this medication cost?

Your doctor may not know the exact answer to this. What you actually pay for a medication depends on many factors, including your health plan and benefits. But they can give you an idea of what to expect.

Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor if there is a generic option.6 Generic versions are copies of brand name drugs that cost less. They may also be able to prescribe a different drug that is less expensive.

With some pills, your doctor can prescribe a double dose that you cut in half. This is called pill splitting, and it may save you money.6

When you get home, login to your health plan account to find out your costs. Most insurers have an online tool for comparing the price of medications at different retail and online pharmacies. You can also use a pharmacy discount card. Optum Perks offers a free discount card you can give to your pharmacist to save on medications.

And remember, your pharmacist is also a good resource for medication information.7 They can answer many questions that may come up after you leave the doctor’s office.

Save up to 80% on your medications. Get free coupons from Optum Perks — accepted at pharmacies nationwide. Find coupons.

Sources

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Finding and Learning about Side Effects (adverse reactions). Last updated August 8, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  2. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Taking medicines — what to ask your provider. Last reviewed January 29, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  3. National Center for Health Statistics. Therapeutic Drug Use. Last reviewed February 23, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  4. National Institute on Aging. Taking Medicines Safely as You Age. Last reviewed September 22, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  5. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Storing your medicines. Last reviewed January 29, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  6. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. How to save money on medicines. Last reviewed 8/11/22. Accessed September 22, 2023.
  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tips for Talking with Your Pharmacist to Learn How to Use Medications Safely. Last updated October 15, 2019. Accessed September 22, 2023.

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