What You Need to Know About Your Medications

by Susan Evans

Did your physician order new medications or change your current type or dose? Make sure you write down all the information and repeat it back to the doctor BEFORE you leave the office!

  • What problem the drug is treating
  • The name of the drug (Have the doctor spell it out since some names sound very similar)
  • The dosage orders and strength (MCG and MG are two very different dosage amounts!)
  • How/when/how long you’re to take it

At the pharmacy, read the label and compare what it says with what the doctor told you. Mistakes DO happen! Then write down any additional instructions the pharmacist gives. This is also a good time to ask if the pharmacy offers any special services: chronic disease management (diabetes, asthma, etc.), consultations, home delivery, etc.

WHN TIP – Track Your Medications: Keep track of your medications with our Medical History and Vaccinations Data Sheet. Fill out the form (include prescriptions, OTC and vitamin/herbal supplements) and share your list of all medications with your pharmacist and your doctor.

Questions to Ask

Picking up a new prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication? Here is a starter list of questions to ask the pharmacist.

WHN Tip – Share Your Story: Had a problem with a med or OTC drug? Been diagnosed with a health problem? Alert the pharmacist in case it might affect the new drug regimen or order.

Prescription Drugs

  • What is the name of the medication?
  • What is it for or supposed to do?
  • How do I take it?
    • Before, during or after meals?
    • Any foods or beverages to avoid?
    • Any potential drug interactions with my current list of meds or supplements?
  • Is it OK to cut pills in half or crush them to mix into foods?
  • When do I take it?
    • Every six hours OR 4 times a day?
  • How long should I take it — just until I feel better or until the pills are all gone?
  • What if I forget to take my medication?
  • How should I store my medications?
  • Should I avoid alcohol, any other medications, foods, and/or activities?
  • What are the common side effects? (If you think you may be experiencing side effects, contact your doctor or pharmacist.)
  • What are the dangerous side effects and what should I do if that happens?
  • Is it safe to become pregnant or to breastfeed while taking this medication?
  • Will my insurance cover my medications?

WHN Expert TIP – Insurance Coverage: “Not sure what prescriptions are covered under your insurance plan? Head to your insurance company’s website and print out the complete list of medications covered under your prescription plan. This will save time and money!” Jennifer Walker, RN

  • Is there a generic version of the medication my doctor has prescribed? (Generic medicines are usually less expensive than their brand-name counterparts.)
  • How many days in advance should I order my refills?
  • Do you have any additional advice or information – pamphlets, brochures, etc. – available regarding my medications?

Nonprescription or Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications

Even though medicines like cough syrup, allergy medications or even ibuprofen do not require a doctor’s written prescription, they are still very powerful and may affect other medications.

  • Are my symptoms too serious for a nonprescription drug?
  • Will this prevent or relieve my symptoms?
  • Is the store brand the same (dosage and ingredients) as the name brand OTC medication?
  • What potential side effects should I be aware of — drowsiness, insomnia, gastric discomfort, etc.)? What do I do if that happens?
  • What kinds of other medications should I not take?
  • Is it important when I take the medication?
  • How and when do I take it?
    • Before, during or after meals?
    • Any foods or beverages to avoid?
    • Any potential drug interactions with my current list of meds or supplements?
  • Can I cut pills in half or crush them to mix into foods?
  • How long should I take it — just until I feel better or until the pills are all gone?

WHN TIP – Side Effects: If you think you are having a side effect and don’t know what to do, call your doctor or pharmacist. You also need to tell them if you have done anything to try to treat it — such as skipping a dose, stopping the medicine, or taking an over-the-counter or herbal remedy. This information is important for them to include in both your medical and pharmacy records.

Medication Safety Tips

  • Do not store medications in your bathroom since moisture can cause them to lose their effect. It’s best to keep medicines in a hall closet or on a high shelf in the kitchen.
  • Remember to store prescription and nonprescription medications out of the reach of children.
  • Keep medications in their original childproof containers so you will have the label, instructions, expiration date and information for ordering a refill if needed.

WHN TIP – Traveling and Your Medications: If you are traveling, it is very important to keep your medications labeled, in their appropriate containers and in your carry-on bag. This helps with airport security. NEVER pack your meds in checked bags, in case the bag gets delayed or lost.

  • Never take prescriptions that are prescribed for another person.
  • Never take medicines in the dark. You may accidentally take the wrong medication or the wrong amount.
  • Take all of the medicine as prescribed; don’t stop taking it once you start feeling better without doctor’s orders.
  • Do not take more or less than the recommended dosage without consulting the prescribing physician or pharmacist.
  • Check for an expiration date on the label or container. Do not take outdated or unlabeled medicines. Discard appropriately.

For More Information

The site has a searchable database of drugs and other information.

Every Patient’s Advocate
The site has a Master List of Prescription Abbreviations.

FDA.Gov: How to Dispose of Unused Medicines
The page has drug disposal guidelines.


The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. These tips are from doctors, nurses and people who have shared their real-life advice; always check with a doctor or other appropriate medical professional you trust before making any healthcare changes. Again, speak to your doctor before using any form of medication – prescription or nonprescription drugs.

Photo Credit: DarkoStojanovic

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