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Know Your Medications

A Guide to Help You Get the Most from Your Prescriptions

With new lifesaving medications available each year, it is more important than ever for you to understand the “what, why, how, when and where” of your medications.

Your physician, nurse and pharmacist will take every opportunity to answer your questions concerning the medications you have been prescribed.

The goal is to help you understand “what” you are taking, “why” you are taking it, “how” you need to take it, “when” you need to take it and “where” you need to store it.

While in the hospital…

Have a friend or family member get your medications if you didn’t bring them with you so the doctors and nurses will know what you are taking.

Ask if you need to continue taking your medications or if you will be given other medications to take while you’re in the hospital.

Tell your doctor you want to know the names of each medication and why you are taking them.

Look at all medications before you take them. If they don’t look like what you usually take, ask why. They could be generic drugs, but make sure you ask.

Don’t let anyone give you medications without checking your hospital ID bracelet every time.

Explain to your doctor and nurse any bad reactions you’ve had to medications or food.

Ask the doctor, nurse or pharmacist to explain each medication to you and a family member before you go home. Ask what, why, how, when and where.

Update your medication list from home if your prescriptions have changed.

At the doctor's office…

Bring your medications in their original container each time you go to the doctor, especially if you see more than one doctor.

Read the prescription before leaving the doctor’s office. If the medication or dosage listed is not clearly readable, ask the doctor to rewrite the prescription form. Also ask what the medication is for. Many drug names look alike so knowing the purpose of the drug will help the pharmacist double-check the prescription.

Ask the doctor to tell you the medication name and when you take it, and compare that with the prescription form.

Ask the pharmacist to read the prescription aloud to you before the prescription is filled.

Read the label on the prescription bottle to see if it matches your understanding of what you were to receive.

Ask your pharmacist to open the prescription bottle and confirm that the medication inside is what you were to receive.

At home…

Make a list of medications you are taking. Include the doses, how often you take them, the color of and imprint on each pill, and the name of the pharmacy. Include over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements and herbal products you are taking. Also write down your allergies to medications and food. Keep this information with you at all times.

Don’t take someone else’s medication.

Take all of your medication — don’t stop taking it just because you feel better.

Use the measuring tool that came with your liquid medications.

Don’t chew, crush or break tablets unless instructed.

Don’t store medications in the bathroom medicine cabinet or in direct sunlight. Heat, humidity and light affect the safety of medications. Store medications where children can’t see or reach them, in a locked box or cabinet.

Your pharmacist…

Find a pharmacist who offers services to monitor your therapy and keeps a complete list of your medications and chronic medical conditions. This list should include over-the-counter medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal products.

With this information in one place, your pharmacist can help protect you against potential drug interactions.

Before you leave the pharmacy, your pharmacist should give you printed information about the medication and make sure that you understand the answers to these questions:

  • What are the brand and generic names of the medication?
  • What does it look like?
  • Why am I taking it?
  • How much should I take and how often?
  • When is the best time to take it? Take it with food or on an empty stomach?
  • How long will I need to take it?
  • Are there any side effects? What should I do if I have side effects?
  • What if I miss a dose?
  • Does it interact with other drugs or food?     
  • Does it replace anything else I was taking?
  • Where and how do I store it?

We hope after reading this information you have a better understanding of the importance of asking questions about your medications. Remember to ask “what” you are taking, “why” you are taking it, “how” you need to take it, “when” you need to take it and “where” you need to store it.

Understanding your medications and asking questions will help keep you and your family safe.