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Is That the Right Medicine for You?

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When You Get Your Next Prescription...

At the Doctor's Office

  • Tell your MD about all the drugs you're taking. We mean everything, not just other prescriptions, but also over-the-counter remedies that you take regularly, including herbal remedies, vitamins, painkillers, and even antacids. "Most people don't think of all these substances as drugs, but they are, and they can have bad interactions with other drugs," says Albert Wertheimer, PhD, a professor at the Temple University School of Pharmacy in Philadelphia. "So even if something seems inconsequential, don't leave it out."
  • Remind her of any drug allergies, as well as of medical conditions you're being treated for by someone else. Yes, it's all there on your chart in front of her on the zillion forms you filled out, but you never know if she missed a page or if the info didn't register, says Scott Strayer, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine and public health sciences at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who researches ways to improve patient care.
  • Tell her if you're trying to get pregnant or planning to try in the near future. Even if your doctor doesn't ask, volunteer this information. "There are some medications [such as Accutane for acne] that can cause birth defects and miscarriage," explains Dr. Correa-de-Araujo.
  • Make sure you can read and understand your prescription before you leave your MD's office. Doctors aren't known for their perfect penmanship; one misunderstood letter or misplaced decimal point and you can end up with the wrong drug or dosage. If your doctor is going to call the prescription in to your pharmacy, write down the drug, what it's for, the dosage, and how often you're to take it, advises Dr. Strayer. This way, if there is a communication error, you'll be more likely catch it.

At the Pharmacy

  • Go to only one drugstore. All of the Rx drugs you're taking will be in their system, and a pharmacist is more likely to notice if you're taking meds that don't mix well, says Dr. Wertheimer.
  • Ask to fill out a patient profile at your pharmacy. On it, you can list every OTC drug you take -- information that the pharmacist will then have in the computer and can check for possible harmful drug interactions. (See "Careful! These Drugs Don't Mix," on Page 3.)
  • Run your Rx by the pharmacist. Tell him what your condition is, and check that your prescription treats it. Also make sure that you understand usage directions -- when to take the medication, how often, with or without food -- and ask any questions you didn't raise with your physician, like what to do if you forget to take a dose.
  • Make friends with your pharmacist. The next time you need, say, cold medicine or an over-the-counter painkiller, ask for his recommendation, given what else you take. If he has a face to put with your name, he may be more likely to call your physician if he questions your prescription.

At Home

  • Speak up. If you're calling your doctor with a health problem and she says that she'll call the Rx in to your pharmacy, be sure to remind her again of all the other medications you're currently taking (OTC ones included), drug allergies, and medical conditions. Do this especially if it's the weekend and you're talking not to your regular physician but to her on-call replacement. "That doctor is probably going to be at home or maybe in her car," says Dr. Jirjis. "Most likely she's not going to have your chart in front of her."
  • Look up your prescription online. There are so many new medications and new research coming out all the time, it's nearly impossible for doctors to stay on top of everything they need to know. "We're bombarded with new information and we can't possibly memorize all of it," says Dr. Strayer. Because of this, doctors rely increasingly on drug-reference databases, several of which are available free on the Internet. For information on prescription drugs, Dr. Strayer recommends checking out Epocrates.com or Medscape.com. To read up on any vitamin and herbal supplements you may be taking, he suggests the Natural Pharmacist. (Google "The Natural Pharmacist" or go to ConsumerLab.com for the link.)

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