What Should I Ask My Doctor/Pharmacist When I Am Being Prescribed Medication?

I was approached by the American Recall Centre last week and asked to write a piece about pharmaceuticals for National Drug Facts Week (January 26th – February 1st 2015).
The American Recall Centre is a great resource for anyone interested in knowing more about drug and medical device recalls or healthcare safety information ( http://www.recallcenter.com/ )
They asked me to highlight some important facts and even though I don’t live in the USA, I felt obliged to do my bit in raising awareness.

N.B. The statistics quoted in this post may be related to the USA, but the information and prompts below applies to each and every one of us worldwide.

National Drug Facts Week is about starting the conversation about pharmaceuticals. It is a chance to ask if you know what medicines you’re putting into your body.

When we are ill we obviously want to feel better and who would be better to visit for advice than a doctor?
Doctors want to provide a solution, however sometimes that solution isn’t always the best one.
We sometimes leave with an array of medication prescribed to help us along and that medication may not always be the best option for us.

“The first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.”
– William Osler


According to the American Recall centre, two out of three doctor’s visits end with a prescription being written and 700,000 emergency room (A&E) visits each year are due to incorrect medication use in the United States.
Therefore, it is imperative that we become more confident and prepared when visiting the doctor or pharmacist and ask the right questions to ensure we understand our medication.

2 out of 3 of all doctors visits end with a prescription. Source: TalkAboutRx.org Image Credit: American Recall Centre

2 out of 3 of all doctors’ visits end with a prescription.
Source: TalkAboutRx.org
Image Credit: American Recall Centre


700,00 emergency room visits each year are due to incorrect medication use in the US. Source: AmericanHealthCare.com Image Credit: American Recall Centre

700,00 emergency room visits each year are due to incorrect medication use in the US.
Source: AmericanHealthCare.com
Image Credit: American Recall Centre


What To Ask When Visiting The Doctor/Pharmacist

You may have as little as 10 minutes with your physician, in order to make them count, ensure you have made a list of all of your symptoms, any allergies you may have and any side effects you may have had in the past related to other drugs.
It’s difficult to remember everything when you are at an appointment and a few simple scribbled notes will help you make the most of your time with your doctor.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the medication and prescription, that is what your doctor or pharmacist is for.

Once you have discussed your ailments and your doctor is writing up your prescription, you might want to ask the following questions to ensure you leave understanding what you will be putting in to your body.
A pharmacist should also be able to help if you have forgotten to ask your doctor something:

  • Why are you prescribing this medicine? How will it help me?
  • Can I get this medication in tablet or liquid form? (If you have a preference – I usually ask for tablets because I prefer them to the taste of liquid medicine).
  • Should I stop taking my other medications while taking this? (If you have other prescribed medication)
  • When should I take this medication? With or without food?
  • Are there any foods, drinks, other medicines or activities that should be avoided whilst taking this medication?
  • Will the dietary/herbal supplements or over the counter medicine (including painkillers such as ibuprofen) I am taking cause any problems if I take this new medication?
  • If you are unsure how to use your medicine, ask for instructions. Some people don’t know how to use inhalers for asthma properly, which can be crucial to keeping you out of the emergency room (A&E)
  • How long do I need to take this medicine for? For example antibiotics will be for a week or so, other medicines can be long term and some can be for the short term until symptoms stop.
  • What happens if I miss a dose? What should I do?
  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have difficulty taking medication. For example some people with arthritis can’t open bottles, or some people may have difficulty remembering when to take medicines at the same time each day.
  • How will this medication help me and my condition?
  • How long will it take for this medicine to start working? Some depression medication can take up to 6 – 8 weeks before you see a difference.
  • What kind of side effects can I expect from this medication?
  • Should I stop taking this medication if I have any side effects?
  • Is this medication on a repeat prescription or is it a one off prescription?
  • How should this medication be stored? In a fridge?
  • Is there another alternative available? Is there a difference between brand names and their generic brand name counterpart?
  • Is there a cheaper alternative?  Sometimes buying medication over the counter can work out cheaper than paying for a full prescription. (This has happened to me on a number of occasions!)
  • Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to help my symptoms?
  • Most of these questions also apply for children’s medication.


Remember if your doctor wants to prescribe medication that may cause difficulties for you in your daily life, you should discuss it with him/her. There can be alternatives out there.

You should always ask about the types of side effects a medication has, it can literally be a matter of life and death at times. Some side effects of medication can be even worse than the symptoms a person has.
An example would be, one of the drugs the American Recall Centre are featuring this month called Xarelto, a blood thinner. It has a horrible side effect that causes uncontrollable internal bleeding that many people are unaware of. (You can find more information here about this drug http://www.recallcenter.com/xarelto/side-effects/ )

1 in 5 causes of death for people over 65 can be medicine related  Source:  Image: American Recall centre

1 in 5 causes of death for people over 65 are estimated to be medicine related
Source: ASCP.com
Image: American Recall centre


I am not a medical professional and therefore I am not advising you to do anything except ensure that you are better informed by your doctor or pharmacist before you take your medication. There can sometimes be alternatives that help cure a disease (for example, adapting your diet to control your diabetes; my grandma was diagnosed with diabetes type 2 and managed to stop taking long term medication by changing her diet completely and losing some weight). Therefore, make sure you spend some time asking your doctor if any lifestyle changes may help your symptoms.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
– Hippocrates

We always see a disclaimer on medication bottles and packets “Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.”

Well that’s the key right there… always consult your doctor or health care professional properly when being diagnosed.

And if all else fails, remember this:

A chemist walks into his shop, to find a man leaning against the wall.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asks.
His assistant replies, “He came in for cough syrup but I couldn’t find any, so I gave him an entire bottle of Laxatives”
“You idiot” the chemist says.
“You can’t treat a cough with Laxatives!”
“Of course you can” the assistant replies.
“Look at him now! He’s too afraid to cough!”


-AD 😉

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions.
I have used reasonable care in compiling the information but I make no guarantee as to its accuracy with regard to statistics provided by other organisations.
Please do consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.



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2 thoughts on “What Should I Ask My Doctor/Pharmacist When I Am Being Prescribed Medication?

  1. As someone who takes prescription medications daily, I am always amazed when I hear about someone having a reaction to a medication because they mixed it with another medication or about someone taking the wrong medication by mistake. I myself, know exactly which medications I take, the dosages I take, the color, shape and size of the pills of each of the meds I take as well as who manufactures them. I also know what the expected benefit of the meds I take are and I know what side effects to look out for and when to call my doctor if I feel I am having trouble with a med.
    Because I take daily meds, anytime I am prescribed a new medication, even if it is by my regular doctor, I double check with the pharmacist to make sure it does not interfere or react with my current meds. I also call the pharmacy (it’s open 24 hrs) before I take any over the counter meds like sinus medications, aspirin, alcohol and even vitamins to make sure that they will not interfere or react with my current meds. I even keep a list of the daily medications I take so that in the event I am unconscious or otherwise unable to inform a doctor – my husband can give them the names and dosages of the meds I take.
    I know people like to place a lot of blame on doctors for prescribing unnecessary medications but the problem with such blame is that doctors are only as good as your information. If you don’t give the doctor your entire medical and medicinal history and habits as well as your family’s medical history then he/she can only make their best guess as to what may or may not work for you based on your current condition.

    Liked by 2 people

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