Beginning a new medication can be a daunting decision. Sometimes the choice is obvious, or not really a choice at all. For example, if you got the flu this winter, you were likely given Tamiflu by a doctor without much discussion. But other times, especially with longer-term medications, there’s a lot to consider.
Even though most medications will affect people in similar ways, people’s bodies can still have different reactions based on a number of factors. Plus, even if you don’t have an abnormal reaction, some medications may have “expected” side effects that you don’t want to risk. So before you pop open your pill bottle, take some time to talk with your doctor about your options. Not sure what to ask? We’ve got you covered.
Cover the Basics
The first question seems obvious: WHY am I taking this? But it’s more than “because it will solve X problem.” Your doctor should also be able to explain just how the drug will help, and why it’s important for your overall health. Along with this comes another “why” question. Why this drug in particular? Your doctor should have a clear reason for choosing one medication over another, whether it’s the standard of care, works the best for most patients they’ve had, or has the least side effects.
Once you understand your doctor’s choice, it’s important to make sure you know how to take the medicine properly. Is it a pill, or an injection? How many times a day should it be taken, and at what dose? What should you do if you miss a dose? Does the medicine need to be refrigerated, or stored in a particular way? All these questions ensure that your medicine is as effective as possible, and that you are taking it in a safe way. The missed dose question is especially important, because missing even one or two pills, as in the case of birth control, can impact the drug’s effectiveness or may put your health at a serious risk and require immediate attention.
Talk Through Your Particulars
You’re a unique individual, which means you don’t go to the doctor as a “clean slate.” You might have other conditions, medications, allergies, and needs that your doctor should address before choosing a medication. A big example of this is women who are pregnant. Although many drugs are safe during pregnancy, drugs that can cross the placenta and/or impact fetal development should always be avoided.
During your visit, you should discuss your other medications. Some drugs are contraindicated for use with others, because of adverse reactions, reduced effectiveness or other factors. Similarly, some drugs may require you to avoid certain foods or activities. For example, people on warfarin need to be careful with how much vitamin K they ingest, because it can lessen the effects of the medicine.
Another thing that is particular to each individual is their financial status. The question that goes with this is “Is there a generic version?” Most medications have a generic version, a non-branded drug that has the same active ingredient as the branded option. The difference is that branded drugs can cost up to 600% more than their generic counterparts, and some insurance may not cover branded medications, or may only partially cover them. Check with your physician before you get a shock at the pharmacy counter.
Ask the Uncommon Questions
You might have an “off the wall” question and not be sure if you should ask it. The answer is always yes. This is your health and your body! And, if your doctor doesn’t know the answer, they should work with you to find out to ensure you’re completely comfortable before beginning your medication course.
One example is asking about a drug’s legal status. This might be discussing whether the medication is still considered “experimental.” If so, your insurance may not cover it, or may only cover the costs partially. Or, the drug may be approved, but is being given to you for “off-label” reasons- this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, many doctors have found medications to be useful for off-label conditions.
Even after approval, the drug could have legal problems that you might want to know about. For example, Invokana is a widely distributed drug for diabetics. However, there are thousands of Invokana lawsuits in court because the drug has been found to increase the risk of amputation in their patients. That kind of risk is certainly something you’d want to know about before Googling your brand new med.
When it’s time to try a new medication, the most important thing is that you are confident and comfortable with the choice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during that initial visit, later (when you remember that one thing you REALLY wanted to ask), or while taking the med, especially if you begin experiencing adverse effects. Open communication with your physician is key to maintaining your health, so get out there and get informed!