Ask doctors and pharmacists for medication management help

Pouring pills from bottle into hand
Posted 12 December 2018 by Fallon Health

This is the fourth post in a series on medication management. Read the first post here.

By Mojgan Haji, Pharm.D., RPh, and Katherine Loomer, Pharm.D., BCACP

When you’re sitting in front of all the prescriptions, over-the counter medications and vitamins your loved one takes, you may feel the weight of responsibility. Your attention and work ensure that your loved one takes the right medicine, in the right way, at the right time.

There’s a lot to keep track of and understand when you’re managing someone’s medication. Questions come with the territory. Luckily, you have professionals to help you—your loved one’s pharmacist and medical providers are great sources of information and insight. You just have to ask for their help.

Questions to ask at a doctor’s appointment

Medical appointments are a great time to ask questions about new medications being prescribed. You can also discuss the side effects or other concerns about current medications.

You or your loved one can ask:

  • What is the medication for?

  • How long should the medication be taken?

  • What are the side effects?

  • What side effects should be reported to the provider immediately?

  • Is there potential for it to interact with current medications?

  • Are there any medications that are no longer necessary?

If there are medical words used that are making it difficult to understand the conversation, be sure to stop your doctor and ask for explanation or clarification.

Tell the physician if your loved one stopped taking a medication or didn’t get the prescription filled due to cost. Sometimes there’s a similar drug that may be covered by your loved one’s insurer or a generic version that may be less expensive.

Use the pharmacy as a resource

When you pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, it’s important to ask questions such as:

  • How should the medication be taken? Find out if there are special instructions. For example, some medication must be taken at a certain time of day or with/without food.

  • How should this be stored? Does it need refrigeration?

  • If the medication comes in an inhaler or injectable form (such as insulin), ask the pharmacist how to use it. Also ask for safety tips.

  • What are the side effects?

  • Which side effects should be reported to the doctor immediately?

  • Do the side effects increase the risk of falling?

  • Could it interact with anything your loved one is already taking? If you go to the same pharmacy regularly, the team will have records of other medications being taken. Be sure to inform the pharmacy of any additional over-the-counter vitamins or supplements you take regularly.

Remember that you can always ask to speak with the pharmacist, even if he or she seems very busy or if a different staff member waits on you at the register.

Before you leave the pharmacy, check to make sure you have the right medication. Checking prescriptions before leaving the pharmacy assures medication safety and avoids waste—you can’t return a prescription after you leave the pharmacy.

It’s common for pharmacies to use different manufacturers. If you notice the pills in your refill look different, be sure to double-check that it’s the correct medication.

Set up an annual medication checkup

Your loved one should have a medication checkup once a year—with his or her primary care provider (PCP) as well as a pharmacist.

Ask the PCP and all your loved one’s specialists for medication lists. This is particularly important if a provider changes any medication. Share the updated medication list with all your loved one’s providers, so their records are current.

If your loved one takes a medication differently than how it’s written on the list, be sure to make a note on the list. It’s also very important to add all over-the-counter medications and supplements to the medication list.

If all your loved one’s prescriptions are filled at the same pharmacy, the pharmacist should have a complete record of medications, which enables him or her to identify any adverse effects of taking those particular drugs.

Managing medications is a challenging role for a caregiver. We encourage you to take advantage of the tips, tools and people who can make it a little easier for you.

Mojgan Haji and Katherine Loomer manage Fallon Health’s Safe Transitions, a medication therapy management program designed for members transitioning home after hospitalization.

Has a doctor or pharmacist helped YOU with managing your loved one’s medication? What difference has it made for you and your loved one? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

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