19 Simple Medication Questions Savvy Patients Must Ask a Doctor

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As you sit in the doctors office, waiting for her to come into the exam room. You think to yourself… what medication is she going to put me on now?

Sound familiar?

Today almost 46% of the people in the U.S. have used prescription drugs in the past 30 days. What is scary is that most of those people do not have a good understanding about the drug they are using. The good news is that doesn’t have to be you!

She did it, just like you thought the doctor wants to start you on a new medication. You are worried about the cost and how it will make you feel and it hits you….”why didn’t I ask about that?”

Being armed with the right questions to ask gives you the power back. Even if you have already started a medication or been taking one for years, you should still go through this checklist of questions about every medication you put into your body, before you start it.

The doctor will see you now

According to the CDC, 74% of physician office visits result in some sort of drug therapy. With such a high number of visits resulting in drug therapy, do all these patients walk out clearly understanding their medications?

Medications can be dangerous

Most people do not ask the questions they should before putting a drug substance in their body. Keep in mind that properly prescribed drugs lead to about 1.9 million hospitalizations per year. Unfortunately, about 128,000 people die from drugs properly prescribed to them by a doctor. This number does not include overdoses, that number is much higher.

“Every year 7,000-9,000 people die from a medication related error.”

Even more scary is that every year 7,000-9,000 people die from a medication related error. That mean just a simple mistake such as taking the medication to often, or in too high a dosage.

What are your medicines used for?

Considering how dangerous medications can be, it is crucial you know what they are for, at a minimum. Too many patients lack the basic knowledge they need about the dangerous chemicals they willingly put into their bodies on a daily basis.

This is why you must ask questions and understand the risks and benefits before agreeing to take medication!

When should you talk to the doctor?

Should you see the doctor just to ask these questions? The answer is absolutely. Scheduling a “medication visit” will give you the time to focus on just medications with your doctor. Why schedule a visit just to talk about medication? Well consider the following according to the Journal of Health Services Research.

  • The median doctor office visit last 15 minutes.
  • Typically 5 minutes is spent on the main topic of the visit.
  • Each additional topic gets about 1 minute.
  • The patient actually only talks for about 5 minutes in the average visit.

The time to ask the doctor about your medications is before you leave the office. However, if that didn’t happen the next best time to ask is now. Don’t be afraid to ask, most doctors will appreciate patients that take an active role in their healthcare.

Shared decision making

The Office of the National Coordinator, a government agency, urges prescribers to engage patients in shared decision making. This is a process in which clinicians and patients work together to make decisions and select treatments. The concept is based on clinical evidence balancing risk and outcomes with patient preferences and values.

Patients need to be aware that their preferences and values should help drive treatments decisions. Especially including the medications they take.

What questions should you ask as a patient?

The key questions that patients must ask to understand there medications are listed below. They are broken up into two sections:

  1. What to ask the doctor
  2. What to ask the pharmacist

Yes, you should talk to the doctor and the pharmacist about your medications. The more advice you can get for free the better. Remember the pharmacist is a medication expert trained for six or more years on nothing but medications.

Click here to get Dr. Jason Reed’s exclusive list of medication questions you MUST ask your doctor, for FREE!

Ask the doctor

1. What is the medication for?

What disease or ailment that you have will this drug treat? It seems straightforward, but far too many patients do not know what the drugs they take are for. This becomes more prevalent with each drug that gets added to their list.

To keep it all straight a medication list is a must. A good medication list should be carried with you at all times. Click here to get your FREE medication list with the all the information you need to track. As you will see, what is the medication for is such a key question it even goes on the medication list.

2. Are there any non-drug options?

Before the thought of using a medication is discussed, ask your doctor if there are non medication ways of treating the issue at hand. Remember that so many office visits result in a prescription, your doctor may think you are expecting to get one.

In many cases the medication may be the easier way out. However, the best option for your health typically includes changing lifestyle habit or even the diet.

3. What happens if I don’t take this medication?

Yes, this is an option. Just because the doctor recommends a medication doesn’t mean you HAVE to take it. In most cases listening to the doctors advice will be a good idea. However, you want to know what will be the outcome if you don’t take this medicine.

Will it simply mean you will continue to have scaly skin, or could it cause you to have organ failure? Some conditions do not require treatment. Others may be managed by changing diet or lifestyle.

4. How much will it cost?

Surprised this question is included? This is actually a way more important question than you may realize. According to the CDC cost related nonadherance to medications ranges between 8-20% depending on the age and socioeconomic status of the patient.

Keep in mind that the cost is not a one time expense. If your doctor intends for this to be an ongoing treatment your costs to be quite large over the course of the year. 7 Easy ways how to save money on drugs explains how to lower costs if you do decide to start the medication.

5. Are there less expensive alternatives?

Some drugs are only available as brand names because the patent has not expired on them yet. When that is the case a generic, which is typically much less expensive is not available. That is when you need to ask the doctor if there are therapeutic alternatives that will have a similar effect but cost much less.

Don’t be afraid to push this issue especially if you think the cost of this medication will make it difficult for you to pay for it and other financial obligations.

6. Will my insurance cover this drug?

Once you and your doctor determine this is right drug for you, the next step is to look at your health insurance to determine if it will be covered. While the overall cost of the drug may be high, you might have copay or coinsurance that would make it more affordable.

5 Proven methods to save on prescriptions with insurance has tips to obtain the medication at the best price possible. In the long run the insurance plan you choose should provide the best coverage of your medication(s).

7. How does it work?

Do you need to know the intriqite details a pharmacist would know about each medication? Probably not.

However, if you know that your blood pressure medication works by making you urinate more often then it won’t come as a surprise when you have to go to the bathroom a few more times per day. Or if you know a heart pill slows down your heart rate it will explain why you don’t feel your heart racing as much.

Remember, knowledge is power and this is medication you are ingesting every day. Understand how it works seems like a no brainer.

8. How long will this take to start working?

This may seem like a silly question but the range on seeing full effect from a medication can vary greatly. Some medications can start to work literally within minutes. On the other hand, drugs for certain conditions such as depression can take four to six weeks to see full effect.

Pharmacists see this a lot where a patient will get a prescription and a week later get another script at a higher dose because the patient didn’t think it was working. However, they had not waited long enough to see the effect of the starting dose. That sets patients up for potential dose related side effects later on.

9. How will I know if it is working?

What exactly should you be looking for to know if the medication is having the desired effects? Will you need to monitor your blood pressure at home? Is there a scale of pain that you need to keep track of to ensure the problem is going away?

Bullet journaling medication effects provides an in depth look at how you can track if medications are working for you. Many people find when they start using the bullet journaling method they can discontinue old medications that are no longer helping them.

Check with your doctor first, of course!

10. How long before following up on this medication?

There should be a plan for when you will follow up with your prescriber on the medication. Numerous things could be required at this follow up such as:

  • Increasing the dose
  • Decreasing the dose
  • Discontinuing the drug
  • Changing the time of day when you take the medication

The only way for you and the doctor to know the right path is by referring to your bullet journal.

11. How long do I need to take this medication for?

Have a timeframe that you and your doctor establish prior to starting a medication is key. This prevents medications that are supposed to be short term from staying on your medication list for years. The best practice is to reevaluate the medication after a set amount of time.

The most common example of this are medications used for heartburn. Too often people end up taking these for years or decades. However, none of the approved heartburn agents has an indication from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for more than three months of use.

12. Do you have any educational materials?

Most doctors will have pamphlets to provide that cover some of the basic information about your medication. In addition, pharmacies typically provide a leaflet on your medication. These are a good place to start, but will typically be very general and cover everything imaginable that could happen while taking the drug.

Ask your doctor if there are videos you could watch about the medication. Many people learn and retain more when watching a video. Finally, before turning to Dr. Google for any questions ask the doctor about websites they recommend for information. Don’t believe everything you read online or on social media!

13. Should I avoid any activities?

A medications desired effects or side effects can impact your ability to do certain activities. Knowing that you should not drive right after taking a drug that causes drowsiness can be a very important nugget of information.

There are many other examples like this, which is why you need to ask your doctor this question. Social activities such as drinking can impact how your body metabolizes the medication and thus could cause problems. Knowing things to watch out for ahead of time will keep you safe and out of the emergency room.

Ask the pharmacist

14. Can I discontinue any other medications I currently take?

Too many patients have new drugs added on without ever looking if old ones can be removed. In most cases older drugs could be removed if the medication list was thoroughly reviewed and office visits were not rushed. That is why you ask the pharmacist to review and if they find a drug to remove they can discuss with the doctor about why.

Discontinuing drugs has many potential positive impacts including:

  • Save money
  • Prevent drug side effects
  • Improve overall health

Don’t forget about over the counter drugs and dietary supplements. If you were trying to manage the issue without a doctor and now the doctor is involved and writing for a new drug, it will almost always make sense to get rid of the non prescription medication.

15. How should I take this? With or without food, alcohol, in the morning or at bedtime?

Knowing the right time to take a medication can be the key to getting optimal results. You would not want to take a sleeping pill after breakfast as an example. The same is true for timing medications with either food, sodas or alcoholic beverages.

Another key component is which drugs to take together and which you should separate. Your pharmacist will be able to identify these tips for you and make your trial of this medication as successful as possible.

16. What are the side effects?

Side effects, sometimes referred to as adverse effects or adverse reactions, are symptoms that medications produce that are unwanted.  Every medication has the potential to cause side effects and will if taken improperly.  Medications can have multiple side effects and it isn’t important to try and memorize every little thing that could come up.  Instead ask your pharmacist about the key side effects to be on the lookout for in your particular situation.    

Remember, any medication whether is it prescription, over the counter or dietary supplements could have side effects.  Those side effects could range from mild nausea to a life threatening situation so make sure to know what to watch for and write them down. 

17. Can this be split, chewed or crushed?

Breaking down a dosage form of a medication can affect the way it works in the body. Splitting, chewing or crushing could change the way the medication is absorbed into the body and thus cause it to not work properly. In the case of extended release medications splitting them could be dangerous.

Other dosage forms may also have special instructions:

  • Creams
  • Ointments
  • Lotions
  • Patches
  • Eye drops
  • Ear drops
  • Inhalers
  • Nebulizer medications

Regardless of the dosage form always ask your pharmacist how to use the medication properly.

18. Are there any drug interactions?

Pharmacists are the drug experts and that is why you want to ask them about drug interactions. Many drug interactions can exist, but not all of them could pose a serious threat to you. You must inform the pharmacist of all your medications of any kind so they can give you an accurate assessment of drug interactions.

Drug interactions can differ based on your age and diseases states. That is why it is critical for a pharmacist to assess this based on your situation. This is not the question to take to Dr. Google!

19. What should I do if I miss a dose?

Missing a dose of your medication can drop the levels in your blood, which could make them not work like they should.  Medication educational information or the leaflet from the pharmacy may have information on what to do if you miss a dose, although writing down exactly what the pharmacist tells you about this specific medication is a much better idea.

The main problem is that the next dose may be too close together and that could cause a higher than expected level of drug in your body.  Therefore, putting you at risk of side effects. Certain medications pose no big problem with taking “off schedule”, while others can be quite dangerous to manipulate time. 

Click here to grab a FREE copy of these questions you can take with you to your next doctors appointment.

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