By: Audrey Landers
A reader from ConsumerSafety.org let us know this interesting fact: 55% of Americans (almost 178 million people!) regularly take at least one prescription. Unfortunately, we know that low health literacy can keep patients from fully understanding their prescriptions. Not only does health illiteracy cause problems in understanding, but it also affects the ability to recognize what information may not be distributed during an appointment. As SCG Health’s founder, Jen Searfoss, likes to say “you don’t know what you don’t know,” meaning that sometimes patients might not know what they need to ask you when given the opportunity.
Fortunately they have you: a physician who is ready to go above and beyond by thinking ahead and trying to answer every question before they have it. Here are a few questions these patients might have, if they only knew to ask them:
Why am I being prescribed this medicine?
This question may seem like it doesn’t even need to be asked, after all it’s being prescribed for their high blood pressure, or their arthritis, or the flu that they made their appointment for! But some conditions may require a patient to take many different medications, each of which helps with a different aspect of their ailment. Taking the time to explain what each medication does may keep your patients from feeling that certain prescriptions are useless or unnecessary.
How and when will I know if the is medication working? What do I do if I think it isn’t?
Patients sometimes expect magical results from their prescriptions. When you prescribe something new, it’s important to emphasize what the medication will do for them. With some medications, the effect will be noticeable, through easing pain, getting rid of stiffness, or helping to clear up an infection. With others, like for high blood pressure or diabetes, the effects may not be noticeable at all unless there are specific signs they know to look for. Let them know of any subtle signs that show their medication is working. If they believe it isn’t working for them, they may stop taking it or even adjust their dosage on their own so be sure to tell them that even if they feel the medicine is not doing anything, they have to speak to a doctor before they change anything.
What if I miss a dose?
Any missed doses will lower the effectiveness of the medication but each medicine will have different steps that must be taken. Should the patient take a dose as soon as they remember? Or do they double-up on their next scheduled dose? Are there potentially dangerous consequences that come from missing a dose? This information is particularly important if a patient has a history of medication noncompliance.
How do I store the medication?
Will a certain medication become less effective if stored in a humid bathroom medicine cabinet? What medicines need to be kept cool in the fridge? People tend to keep all of their medicine in one area so if a prescription has special storage instructions, the patient needs to know before they pick it up.
What do I avoid while taking this medication?
Medications can have all sorts of unpleasant reactions to things that the average consumer would not expect. While many people will avoid alcohol, physical labor, and heavy machinery depending on the medication, other things they need to avoid are not so obvious. A patient will need to know if their prescription will negatively interact with any over-the-counter medications they might use as well as any supplements. Many people think that anything labeled herbal or natural is automatically healthy, and may not take as much caution as they would with cough medicine or ibuprofen.