The Importance of Managing and Understanding Your Medication

Nearly 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two, according to Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center researchers. Odds are that you are—or one day will be—part of the majority that uses prescription medications.

When you talk to your doctor about a medication, make sure he or she knows what else you take regularly—including prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, herbal supplements, home remedies, and laxatives. Doctors are the experts when it comes to side effects from drug interactions and what could happen if certain drugs are mixed.

An easy way to do this is to keep a list of your prescriptions in your wallet. That way, you will always have it in case you can’t remember every detail. Your list should include the dosage and frequency of each medication and anything else you take frequently.

When you fill your prescriptions at the pharmacy, the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative notes, you should expect your pharmacist to:

  • Tell you the name and purpose of all medications
  • Tell you if you should avoid certain foods or alcohol
  • Tell you what to do if you miss a dose
  • Tell you what good and bad effects to expect from medications
  • Let you know if all your medications can be used together
  • Help you make decisions about over-the-counter medications
  • Provide accommodations such as easy-open caps, large-type labels, and other special packaging
  • Phone your physician if there is a concern about your medications

Here are other important tips when it comes to managing your medications from the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative:

  • Go to one pharmacy because there will be less chance of interactions or difficulties with your medications. Of the people taking more than one prescription, 53 percent get their medications from more than one health care provider, which increases the risk of adverse drug effects
  • Take your medications regularly so it is a habit, and take the recommended dose. As many as half the people who regularly take medications admit to not taking them as prescribed
  • Know about your health conditions—and how your medications can help
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you think your medication isn’t working or is causing a negative effect such as stomachache, rash, or dizziness. Adverse drug effects account for more than 2 million hospital stays per year

Understand your medications—get information from reliable sources. If you don’t know the answers to all of these questions, ask! Your doctor and your pharmacist are advocates for your health and part of your health care team.

  • What is the name of this medication? What is it supposed to do?
  • Why is this the right medication for my condition, age, and gender?
  • Are there things besides medications that can help my condition or symptoms?
  • Are there other medications that can be used to treat my condition? If yes, how do these medications compare in safety, effectiveness, and price?
  • What effects will I get from this, and when will they occur? What are the side effects?
  • Will this medication work safely with all my other medications?
  • How do I take this medication? When do I start and stop taking it?
  • What should I do if I forget or miss a dose? As many as 60 percent of people admit they forget to take their medications regularly
  • Should I avoid certain foods, alcohol, dietary supplements, over-the-counter medications, or driving while taking this medication?

When it comes to medication, knowledge is key. You need to be informed about what you’re taking and the side effects to look for, and the doctor and pharmacist need to know your medical history and provide you with everything you need to know. An estimated $200 billion is spent annually in the United States on unnecessary and improper use of medication. If you don’t fully understand your medications, speak up! Physicians and pharmacists will walk you through whatever you need to know.