When we get a new prescription from our doctor, we often just take it and go – no questions asked. But to get the best results from your new medication, it’s wise to take a few minutes and review your prescription with your doctor. Before you wrap up your doctor’s appointment, consider asking them these key questions.
What is the medication for? While this may sound like a very obvious thing, I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve had who were taking at least one medication which they had absolutely zero idea what it was for. Sometimes, this happens when patients keep getting refills for medications to treat conditions that have gone away or medications that are no longer appropriate for the current state of their health. Other times, why they are taking unnecessary medications can be a bit of a mystery.
Not only that, but if you are already taking several medications, adding another to your regimen makes things more confusing. That’s why making sure you understand why you need another medication becomes even more important—especially when you’re seeing more than one doctor because they might prescribe similar medications to treat the same condition.
As a gentle side note, don’t worry too much: Even if you do leave the doctor’s office unsure of why you’re taking the new prescription and how it affects your current drug regimen, your pharmacist can help you piece together the puzzle as a final check before your go home with your new prescription.
Will this medication interact with my current medications? Remember, your medication list includes not just your prescription medications, but also any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs, and other dietary supplements. Your doctor may not have the answer about drug interactions, so that’s why it’s important to check with your pharmacy, too.
How long will I need to take this medication? This question is important for a couple of reasons: First, the length of time you take a medication can affect the way you will take the medication and how you will feel while you’re on it. For example, if a doctor prescribes you steroids for 7-10 days, you start treatment with a higher dose/more pills and gradually wean to a lower dose as you finish the course of treatment. During this time, you might expect to feel a bit jittery or see a temporary spike in your blood sugar. However, if your doctor prescribes steroids for a long period of time, you may likely take the same dose for a long period of time. And as the months go by, your risk for conditions such as osteoporosis and high cholesterol goes up.
Another issue is that the longer you take a medication, the greater your risk for side effects. However, you might not know what to look for until you ask—which brings me to my next question.
What are the most common side effects, and when should I be concerned? Some side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, and even nausea, are very common and often go away as your body adjusts to the medication. However, side effects like swelling of the face, hands, tongue, eyes, or trouble breathing, are signs of an emergency. Asking about this before your leave the doctor’s office can save you a lot of worry.
How can I tell if the medication is working, and how long will it take for me to notice any changes? In cases where signs and symptoms improve very shortly after getting treatment (e.g., such as a head cold, or sinus infection), it’s pretty easy to figure out if a medication is working. Medications that fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, such as antidepressants, can take up to 8 weeks before you can sense some results.
Is this prescription covered by my insurance? I’ve seen many patients have their treatment delayed because they get bottlenecked in the world of insurance and approvals. Most insurances have formularies, which is like a hierarchy of preferred prescription medications. Tier 1 medications are the preferred medications because they have been shown to be effective while being cheaper. Tier 3 medications are usually most expensive (and often newer) and usually require a prior authorization for approval. In other words, your insurance will probably want you to try Tier 1 and Tier 2 therapy first—unless your prior authorization is approved. Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe a mediation that requires a prior authorization without realizing it. This makes asking this question a good way to double check and avoid one additional hurdle that could prevent you getting your medication as quickly as you need it.
Sometimes, your doctor may not know the answer to this question right offhand. But asking will at least get your doctor thinking about ways to help you pay for your prescription if it’s not fully covered, or thinking about cheaper drugs that can still do the job.
Also, drug reps give doctors coupons for certain drugs. Oftentimes, these discounts apply to high-dollar drugs and newer drugs. Word to the wise: If your doctor happens to give you one of these dollar-savers, let your pharmacy know in advance of picking up your prescription. Sometimes, it takes a little extra time and effort to apply the coupon to your account because the coupons may require some additional steps. If you let the pharmacy know ahead of time, it can save the pharmacy staff—and you—some extra time because they won’t have to rerun your prescription billing.
So, at your next doctor’s appointment, take a few extra minutes to talk through the details of your new prescription. It could make a big difference in your health.