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Master Your Medicine: How to Better Understand Your Prescription

If you often think: “Why am I even taking these?” See this.

Your doctor prescribed a new medicine to you. You don’t quite understand why, but you trust that your doctor knows what he or she doing. After about a month, you don’t feel much different, which makes you wonder: Is this medicine even working?

If you’re not feeling or seeing an improvement while taking your medicine, it’s understandable that you may feel like it’s not doing its job. The thing is, many medicines may seem like they’re not doing anything, but in reality, they’re actually working really hard behind the scenes. Even though you can’t feel it, they’re helping.

“For silent chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, it may be working, but you may not be feeling the effects,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical editor at HealthiNation and a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

If you’re feeling like you don’t understand your prescription, don’t stop taking it. Medications only work if you take them as directed. It can be dangerous if you skip doses, elect not to take a prescribed medicine, or take too much.

Instead, get to know your medicine, so you can feel better about taking it. Here’s how:

TIP #1: Ask your doctor what you can expect.

Whether you’ve been taking your medicine for a while or you’ve just been prescribed, it’s important to discuss your treatment plan with your doctor and ask questions. You have every right to know exactly how your medication is going to affect you.

At your next appointment, ask these questions:

  • How is this medicine working in my body?

  • How long will I have to take this medicine?

  • What’s the long-term goal of this medication?

  • What are the side effects?

  • What happens if I miss a dose?

  • How long until I will see results?

  • What are the benefits vs. risks?

  • Are there tests to make sure the medications are working?

Write down any questions or concerns you have before your appointment so you don’t forget.

TIP #2: Write down, repeat, and review.

At your appointment, write down the medication information, your treatment plan, and the answers to your questions.

Then, “repeat back to your doctor exactly what you think the instructions are to take the medications and what you expect,” says Dr. Parikh. “Actually show your doctor what you wrote down and review it again with them.”

Being thorough in this process will help clear up any miscommunication that may lead to confusion down the road.

TIP #3: At the pharmacy, ask for a patient handout.

When filling your prescription, talk to your pharmacist about any questions or concerns you may have and be sure to ask for a patient handout.

“Read the prescription information at the pharmacy and reread it when you refill your medication in case there are any changes,” says Punkaj Khanna, PharmD, a pharmacist based in New York City.

Understanding your medications and taking them as directed is just as important to your health as getting enough exercise and eating a nutritious diet.  

“Remember: You, your doctor, and your pharmacist are a team, so work together and make sure you’re getting the best treatment plan possible,” says Dr. Parikh.

Punkaj Khanna, Pharm. D.

This video features information from Punkaj Khanna, Pharm. D.. Punkaj Khanna earned his Pharm.D. from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. He works at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and has special interests in patient education and compliance.

Preeti Parikh, MD

This video features information from Preeti Parikh, MD. Dr. Parikh, a board-certified pediatrician affiliated with The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, is HealthiNation's chief medical editor.

Duration: 2:02. Last Updated On: April 17, 2019, 6:53 p.m.
Reviewed by: Mera Goodman, MD, Preeti Parikh, MD . Review date: April 5, 2019
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