How to Make Smart Medication Choices

Your doctor is not the only one to decide on your health. You also have a say, especially when it comes to the medications you take.

“You play an important role in creating your treatment plan,” says Wanda Filer, MD, past president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “You know your medical history, the medications you are allergic to and your budget.”

Talk about these things with your doctor. Together, you will make the best decisions about the medication you need.

Questions to ask

There are many factors that go into choosing the right treatment for you. Ask your doctor these questions:

What do I need this medicine for? “You’re more likely to take a drug if you understand why you’re taking it,” says Eva Waite, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

If you skip a medicine it can have serious effects on your health. For example, if you don’t take your blood pressure medication, it could lead to heart disease or a stroke.

What are the side effects? Find out what to expect. This can help you decide which medications are best for your lifestyle.

“Together you can try to choose which ones have the fewest side effects or which ones are most acceptable to you,” says Waite.

For example, some medications may make you feel like you need to go to the bathroom more often. For some people, this might not be a big deal. But if your job involves spending a lot of time in your car, you may need to find a drug that treats your condition without this side effect.

How often should I take it? If it is difficult for you to remember to take your medicine several times a day, talk to your doctor.

“There are many drugs that come in combination,” says Waite. “So instead of taking three different blood pressure pills, you might be able to take one pill that has all three.”

How much does it cost? Even if you have health insurance, medications can be expensive. Don’t let that stop you from taking them.

“If you let your doctor know that cost is an issue, he or she can often help you find a cheaper alternative,” says Filer. “Sometimes your doctor may adjust your dose so that you only need to take a medicine once a day instead of twice. It can also make a difference in the cost.”


Talk about the medications you are taking

Before your appointment, write down all of the medications you are currently using. Bring the list with you.

“Make sure you also include any supplements you take,” says Waite. This includes vitamins, minerals, and herbal products. The information can help you avoid harmful interactions.

“For example, ginkgo biloba can cause bleeding,” she says, “so your doctor will want to know you’re taking it before you add a blood thinner which may also increase your risk of bleeding.”

Your relationship with your doctor can make a big difference in how your treatment plan works. Do not stop taking any medication without discussing it with them first.

“There are solutions to almost any problem you might face while taking medication,” says Waite. “You just need to let your doctor know so you can figure it out together.”



Wanda Filer, MD, president-elect, American Academy of Family Physicians; family physician, York, PA.

Eva Waite, MD, assistant professor, internal medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.

American Heart Association: “Medication Adherence – Take Your Medications As Directions”, “Water Pill”.

Xinhuan W. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, published online in February 2014.

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Tips for Talking to Your Doctor”.

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