There’s a good chance you take at least one prescription drug— about 82 percent of American adults do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There’s also a good chance you pick up that medication without asking the pharmacist any questions.
You may want to reconsider. According to a study published in the medical journal JAMA, some 700,000 emergency room visits each year are attributed to misuse of prescription drugs. Many of them could have been prevented, either by the patient or a member of his medical team, according to the Institute of Medicine. Arming yourself with information about your medication and how to take it is essential. One way to get that information is by asking your pharmacist the right questions.
“A pharmacist’s primary concern is the health of their patients, and safe use of their medications is of paramount importance,” says Sophia De Monte, spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association and pharmacy manager at Costco in Nesconset, New York. “No question is stupid or trivial.”
When you pick up your prescription, make sure the medication literature is attached to the bag. While reading all of this material can be a chore, it will serve as a great backup to the answers you get from your pharmacist. Also, note any warnings and stickers placed on the medication bottle itself. Then get ready to pick your pharmacist’s brain.
What Your Pharmacist Should Know About You
First, there are a few things your pharmacist needs to know about you. If you’ve been going to the same pharmacy for years, this information should be part of your record. Even if you’re well known at your drugstore, double-check that they have the following on file:
● Other medications you’re taking
● Dietary restrictions
● Up-to-date insurance information
More than likely, the pharmacist will initiate a conversation with you about any new medications or changes in your prescription drug regimen. But in case she doesn’t, come prepared with these questions:
1. “When should I take it?”
Your medication may need to be taken at a very specific time, on a full or empty stomach or with a certain number of hours between doses. Failure to follow this guidance could lessen its effectiveness or increase the risk of side effects.
2. “What are the side effects?”
Side effects can range from mild, such as an upset stomach, to potentially life threatening, and some side effects are more common than others. When asking your pharmacist about potential effects, ask how likely it is that you’ll experience them. This is also a good time to ask about serious adverse effect— those that would warrant medical attention.
3. “Are there other medications or supplements that I should steer clear of?”
The chemical makeup of a drug can make it dangerous to combine with other medications or supplements. In a 2008 study published in JAMA, researchers found one in 25 older adults were at risk of a “major drug-drug interaction.” Inform your pharmacist of all the medications and supplements you take, whether they’re daily vitamins, anti-inflammatories for aches and pains or over-the-counter cold medicine.
4. “Are there any foods or drinks I should avoid?”
In addition to drug interactions, you should ask whether your medicine could interact with your food or drink. Alcohol is often mentioned as off limits on the side of prescription bottles, but there may be additional things you should avoid. Some drugs can cause problems when taken with caffeine, and diuretics can cause problems for people who eat foods that are high in potassium, for example.
5. “What should I do if I miss a dose?”
It’s easy to forget to take your medicine, or to get sidetracked and remember it hours later. The advice on when to take a missed dose varies by medication. Some drugs must be taken at certain times of day, or with a certain number of hours between doses. Ask this question to minimize the risk that your missed dose (or the makeup dose) will interfere with your treatment.
6. “How long should I take it?”
Some drugs need to be taken indefinitely and will come with refills and, possibly, a need for regular check-ins with your doctor. Others, like antibiotics, are taken for a set period. Regardless, failing to take them as long as directed could have serious consequences. In the case of antibiotics, for instance, quitting your medication early because you’re feeling better could lead to antibiotic resistance.
Your path to good health doesn’t end when you leave the doctor’s office; your pharmacist plays an important role too. Take advantage of his or her knowledge by asking questions that can keep you safe and well.