How to Ask Questions About Your Medicine
Friday, September 7, 2012 at 3:37PM

by Dr. David Buch, MD chairman of the Geriatric Psychiatry Committee of the Philadelphia Psychiatric Society

But my doctor is too busy to answer questions.

Doctors are busy in this era of managed care, but it is important that you ask your doctor to sit down with you for a few minutes, so you can understand what you are taking.

What do I need to know?

Should I only take this medicine when I need it?

Sometimes, but usually not. Your doctor should tell you. Many medicines need to be taken regularly in order to help you. Some take weeks to take effect, and some take weeks to wear off.

I didn't take my medicine on Tuesday, and I feel all right. Can I stop it?

Many people try this, but it may take longer than one or two days for problems to return. Ask you doctor what to do if you miss a dose.

Do I have to take this medicine for life?

Sometimes. This is scary, but is better than getting sick again. Also, there may be an improved treatment in the next few years.

Are there "natural" remedies that may be just as good?

Your doctor usually is familiar with a number of herbal and natural remedies, and can discuss what science knows and does not know. Herbal and nature products can have side effects, too.

Am I taking too many medicines?

There are three kinds of medicines:

  1. Medicines that cure disease, such as penicillin for strep throat.
  2. Medicines that control disease, such as insulin for diabetes, antipsychotics for schizophrenia, lithium for manic-depressive disorder, and antidepressants for depression.
  3. Medicines for comfort, such as cough syrup when you have a cold.

What categories do your medicines fall into? What are the risks and benefits of stopping each medicine? Can I take these medicines together?

Your doctor and your pharmacist have tables and computer programs that help them look for interactions between different chemicals. Alcohol and recreational drugs also have interactions with medicines, and with illness.

How can I tell if someone is taking too much medicine?

You cannot always tell, but clues may include:

Also, sometimes people get confused about their medicine, especially if they are taking several medicines several times a day. A 7 day pill box may help. Your doctor may also be able to reduce the number of times a day you need to take medicine.

What if I can't afford all of my medicine, but I am afraid to tell the doctor?

Do tell your doctor. A number of drug companies offer samples and special programs for poor patients. Your doctor will have to call the drug company and apply for it. You may have to provide financial information.

Unfortunately, Medicare does not pay for medicines outside of the hospital. Some individuals with low income qualify for special programs like PACE (in Pennsylvania).

The doctor answered my questions, but I am still not sure.

A second opinion is always OK. But get it from a qualified professional, not necessarily from a neighbor who remembers something they saw on a television program.

Where can I find out more about medicines?

There are a number of books in the public library, and more and more drug companies have patient education programs that are free if you call a 1-800 phone number. Some of these are listed in newspaper and magazine ads, but remember, good advertising is not the most important reason for trying a medicine.

Also, your local pharmacist should be able to give you more information about medicines.

Article originally appeared on MHASP 215-751-1800 (
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