Understanding a New Prescription

An important part of being a prepared patient involves understanding your prescription medications. Before leaving your doctor’s office, you should know:

  • the name of the drug you have been prescribed
  • why you should take it
  • when and how to take it (for example, one pill twice a day, two pills once a day, on an empty stomach, with water, after eating, in the morning, before bed, etc.)
  • how long before you should see results from the medication
  • how to report any problems or side effects you may observe (See Handling Treatment Side Effects for more information)

If you don’t get this vital information, ask for it before you leave. Also, don’t forget to inform your doctor which pharmacy you prefer if they are sending an electronic prescription.

Where Should I Get a New Prescription Filled?

Many people will choose a pharmacy that is close, convenient and that takes their insurance.  Your pharmacy can also provide important drug information and help you avoid dangerous drug interactions. The follow websites offer other things to consider when selecting a pharmacy:

How to Find Lower Cost Medication

If your doctor gives you a prescription, be sure to let them know if you are concerned about the costs of a medication or if you do not have prescription drug coverage. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a generic drug that is just as effective, other drugs that are less expensive with the same efficacy or be aware of coupons from drug companies that you can apply for.

  • Walmart’s Pharmacy has $4 prescriptions for a 30 day supply for hundreds of generic drugs and over-the-counter medications. See the list of available drugs on their website.  If you don’t have a Walmart near you, the 90-Day Prescription Program offers the option of free home delivery to anywhere in the U.S.
  • Target also offers $4 generic prescriptions for a 30 day supply and $10 for a 90 day supply of generic medication for many conditions and diseases. Search their listings. Other large superstores may offer similar services.
  • Pharmaceutical companies also offer patient assistance programs to provide free medications to uninsured individuals who cannot afford prescription medications. You can see if your medication is in involved in this program by using RxAssist.
  • The Partnership for Prescription Assistance helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage receive medications for free or nearly free. They are a single point of access to more than 475 public and private programs, including 200 offered through biopharmaceutical companies.

Your Pharmacist: A Wealth of Information

Whether you have a question about a prescription or an over-the-counter drug, your pharmacist can help sort out problems like drug interactions, for example, letting you know if your daily calcium supplement might make your prescription medication less effective.

Don’t be shy about asking the pharmacist a question. Counseling for new prescription drugs is a legal requirement in many states. If you're concerned about privacy, try saying, “I would like to ask the pharmacist some questions in private.”

Safety First

It may sound obvious, but before you leave the pharmacy or take your first pill, make sure you have the correct medication. Mix-ups can and do happen. If you’re unsure whether you have the right drug, call the pharmacy or use an online medication guide to check. We recommend the following:

  • ConsumerMedSafety.org offers general advice on drug safety, including over-the-counter drugs.
  • MedicineNet.com (owned and operated by WebMD) -provides tips for safely taking your medications.

Once you get home, it’s time to take and store your medication properly. This includes reading and following the directions on inserts and labels.

Look Out for These Red Flags

  • “Take as Much as You Want”-Your prescription label should clearly state boundaries of how much medicine to use and how often. No medicine – including any over-the-counter medicine – is safe in unlimited quantities.
  • You feel worse, not better-If a drug seems to be making you sick, call your doctor right away.
  • Sound-alike drugs-Drugs with similar-sounding names lead to thousands of medication errors each year. Even if the name of the label is correct, if the medicine looks different than what you’re used to, ask the pharmacist why.

We’ve found these sites to be useful and helpful for understanding, tracking, and remembering to take your medications:

Understand Your Medications

  • AARP’s Drugs A-Z is a searchable database that provides information about what each drug is commonly used to treat, its interactions, side effects and other information.
  • Surveyor Health offers a personalized drug assessment tool designed to show users not only drug-drug interactions common and often dangerous adverse drug side effects.

Track Your Medications

  • Medicine Wallet Card from Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ) offers a printable wallet-size prescriptions card for you to take with to your doctor or pharmacist. The form includes information like the medicine name, color, dosage, what it's for and what not to take with it.
  • If you have a smart phone, apps are also available to keep track of your medication list.

Remember to Take Your Medications

  • MyMedSchedule allows you to manage your meds online, set up text message reminders and print checklists.
  • RememberItNow can help you organize and remember to take your medicines. Some services are free, and others involve monthly fees.
  • Companies like RxVitality have invented "intelligent" pill bottles that use lights and sounds to remind you to take your pills.

(Also see more resources at Managing Your Medications.)

Resources reviewed June 2013

MORE COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR DOCTORS RESOURCES
Who’s Who in Your Doctor’s Office
Medical offices have a lot of staff but one common goal—helping you, the patient. Here are some of the people you may meet during your doctor’s appointment.
Getting the Most Out of a Doctor’s Appointment
Doctor’s appointments are often brief. Here’s how to quickly explain what’s wrong so you can get the help you need.
Talking About Medical Tests
Before you agree to medical tests, here are suggestions for some questions to ask, useful websites for understanding medical tests and information about disease screening.
Asking Your Doctor Questions
One of the most important things you can do during a doctor’s appointment is to ask questions. Here’s advice on what to ask and how.
Understanding a New Prescription
Have a new prescription? Here’s what you need to know about taking any new drug and advice for selecting a pharmacy and paying for medications.
Talking About Your Symptoms
Tips on how to research your symptoms online and describe them during your doctor visit.
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RESOURCES

Find Good Health Care Find Good Health Care | The quality of doctors and hospitals varies. Here is information to help you find the right care. More

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Organize Your Health Care Organize Your Health Care | Tips for doctors' appointments, managing health records and dealing with illness and work. More

Make Good Treatment Decisions Make Good Treatment Decisions | Treatment may involve making important decisions. Here's advice on understanding your options, including watchful waiting and getting a second opinion. More

Participate in Your Treatment Participate In Your Treatment | How to manage medical treatments at home, including medications and dealing with side effects. More

Seek Knowledge About Your Health Seek Knowledge About Your Health | Advice on understanding your risk for disease(s) and finding online health information you can trust. More

Get Preventative Health Care Get Preventative Health Care | Advice about physical check-ups, disease screening, dental exams, vaccinations and immunizations. More

Promote Your Health Promote Your Health | Information on healthy lifestyles, improving health habits and help with common concerns, such as weight loss and exercise, pain and depression. More

Plan for Your End of Life Care Plan for Your End-of-Life Care | Information on caregiving, long-term and nursing care, palliative and hospice care and advance directives. More

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