You should choose your pharmacy with the same care you take in choosing a physician. Although it's not uncommon to see more than one doctor, it's best to use only one pharmacy so all medicine records are at one location. On your first visit to the pharmacy, take a few moments to answer questions regarding your medical history. A complete and accurate medicine record will alert the pharmacist to any drug allergies, any conditions that may have an effect on the drugs you take, and any adverse effects you experienced from drugs in the past. This will also enable the pharmacist to detect any harmful drug interactions, and to avoid duplicate orders.
You should be able to answer the following questions before taking any new medicine. Although each medicine comes with instructions, your pharmacist should be available to answer any or all of the following questions in more depth and in language that is easier to understand.
- What is the name of the medicine and what is it supposed to do?
You should know the names of all the medicines—both prescription and nonprescription—you take so you can inform each doctor you see. It is also important to know what each medicine looks like.
- When and how do I take it?
You need to know how often to take your medicine, if the medicine is best taken on an empty stomach or with food, and if you should take it at the same time each day.
- For how long should I take it?
Your prescription order indicates the length of time you should take the medicine and whether refills are available. Skipping doses or stopping medicine to save money or because you "feel better," can result in health problems requiring more expensive treatment in the future.
- Does this medicine contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction?
If you always use the same pharmacy, the pharmacist will be able to detect any potential problems.
- Should I avoid alcohol, any other medicines, food and/or activities?
Certain foods or alcohol may also interact with your medicines. Some drugs can cause drowsiness and may affect activities such as driving.
- Should I expect any side effects?
All medicines can cause side effects, but they are not necessarily serious. Your pharmacist will inform you of the most common side effects. If you experience any unexplained effects, contact your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
- What if I forget to take my medicines?
Be sure you know the answer to this question when you receive the prescription. The decision to take a missed dose depends on the drug. Don't panic and don't take a double dose unless you are specifically directed to do so by your doctor.
- Is there a generic version of the medicine?
Not all medicines have generic counterparts. If a generic version is available, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has judged it to be equivalent to the brand name product and can save you up to half the cost.
- How should I store my medicines?
Proper storage ensures a medicine's effectiveness. The bathroom medicine cabinet is not an ideal storage place. Heat and humidity can adversely affect your medicine. Most medicines require a cool and dry storage location, and some need refrigeration.
- Does this medicine replace anything else I was taking?
Make sure you understand if this medicine is replacing another medicine.
- Keep a list of all your medicines, both prescription and nonprescription.
- Keep all medicines in their original containers. Make sure you know what each is for, and the brand and generic names.
- Store medicines properly. Some may need to be refrigerated, but most should be stored in a cool, dry lockable cabinet away from direct sunlight.
- Never take someone else's medicine.
- Take medicines exactly as prescribed. Don't chew, crush, or break capsules or tablets unless instructed.
- DO NOT flush old medicines down the toilet unless specific instructions tell you to do so. Instead take them out of the original container, mix them with other substances such as cat litter, place them in a sealable bag and throw them into the garbage. Another option is to take them to a community drug take-back program. If you are in doubt about how to dispose of the medicine, talk to your pharmacist.
- Turn the lights on to take your medicines.
- Keep medicines for people separate from medicines for pets or household chemicals.
- Read the label every time you take a dose to make sure you have the right drug.
- Don't keep tubes of ointments or creams next to your tube of toothpaste.
- If you forget your medicines when traveling, don't panic. Most pharmacies will call your home pharmacy and get you enough pills to tide you over. If you're traveling overseas, or will be away for a long time, have your doctor write an extra set of prescriptions for you before you go.
How to dispose of unused medicines. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: . Updated April 14, 2011. Accessed September 12, 2012.
Important questions to talk over with your patients. American Pharmacists Association website. Available at: . Accessed September 12, 2012.
Medications: using them safely. KidsHealth website. Available at: . Updated November 2011. Accessed September 12, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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