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  • Writer's pictureRobert Danziger

What to Ask Your Doctor When You’re Given a Prescription

At the end of an appointment you made because you’re having a health problem, the doctor will often give you a prescription. At this point, as a determined patient, you should ask several questions.

The most obvious one is, What are the known side effects of the prescribed drugs? There are common ones and not-so-common ones, so you might want to look up a complete list on a site such as WebMD before leaving your doctor’s office.

Another is how safe the medication is given your particular situation, including whether you are on other drugs and what your lifestyle habits are. If you typically skip breakfast, will there be problems with your taking the medication in the morning? Will it interfere with the other drugs—or nutritional supplements or food—you ingest soon after waking up?

How should the medication be taken? With meals, before bed, early in the morning? It’s important to know if a medication should be taken before bed because it will make you sleepy. That’s not a drug to take before driving a car, so don’t assume you can take your medications when it’s convenient for you rather than when you are supposed to according to your doctor.

Sometimes storage is an issue, and you should ask whether a medication should be refrigerated, stored in the dark, etc. If you want to keep your pill containers on your sink or nightstand so you don’t forget to take them, or you’ll be traveling, you’ll want to be mindful of keeping your medications free from light or any heat sources that might degrade them.

But additionally, you should ask if there's a long-acting form of the drug. If there is but you are not being prescribed it, why not? Long-acting forms may only have to be taken once a day versus several times, making life much easier. A good example of this is the commonly prescribed drug metoprolol, a beta-blocker often prescribed after someone has had a heart attack or is in heart failure. There are two forms. Metoprolol succinate has a long half-life and needs to be taken only once a day. Metoprolol tartrate, in contrast, has a short half-life and is taken 2 to 3 times per day. If your doctor is prescribing the short-acting form of a drug, ask why. Is it a cost issue and, if so, is there a way to get around that?

Another question to ask is whether there is a generic form of the medication. This can save you thousands of dollars and, with current FDA safety and monitoring, the drug is probably identical to the brand name one(s).

Another good resource for these questions is the pharmacist, who actually may have even more up-to-date, detailed, and even accurate answers than your doctor does.

What if you don’t want to be prescribed medication? Explain your concerns to your doctor and ask what your other options are. Nodding your head, remaining silent, and then not filling the prescription, or filling it but not taking the drug as indicated, will not lead to health improvements. Be determined to have a good, productive conversation with your physician so that as a team, you can decide what’s the right course of action for you.

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