Beyond filling prescriptions, pharmacists have extensive training using drugs to treat diseases and manage conditions. Starting a dialogue with your pharmacist can help ensure you get the right drugs for your needs — and avoid harmful side effects.
Questions to ask a pharmacist
Use these five questions to start a conversation next time you’re picking up a prescription.
1. What is this medication for?
Even though your doctor might have told you the purpose of your prescription, it’s a good idea to ask a pharmacist what the drug is used for.
“It might seem like a silly question, but it allows me to assess if this is really the best medication for you,” said Jen Wolfe, a board-certified geriatric pharmacist. “Doctors sometimes send in the wrong medication. You might say you don’t have the condition the drug is for, so I might advise you not to take it.”
This question can also help you avoid doubling up on similar medications.
“Pharmacists see patients taking a lot of duplications. Sometimes people start on one and don’t realize it’s similar to another, and that they should stop taking the previous one,” said Natalie Gross, a clinical pharmacist at Sherman Oaks Hospital.
2. How should I take this medication?
Every medicine works differently. Ask a pharmacist about the best way to take your prescription.
“Some medicines are very specific on the time of day they should be taken,” said Gross. “For example, [some] cholesterol medications are much better to take at night, while diuretics should be taken in the morning because they can keep you going to the bathroom all night.”
The pharmacist can also tell you if a drug should be taken with a meal. “For certain drugs, food can decrease how much of the medication is absorbed and it might not work as well,” said Wolfe.
3. What side effects should I expect?
Every drug comes with potential side effects. Ask a pharmacist about the most common side effects to expect on a new medication, as well as serious reactions you could experience.
“Some medications can make you feel drowsy or dizzy, and impair your ability to drive as much as alcohol does,” said Gross. “Others can cause dangerous side effects, and if you notice them, you should talk to your doctor immediately.”
4. What should I do if I miss a dose?
No one is perfect, and there will probably come a day when your pill slips your mind. Your pharmacist can let you know what to do when you forget to take your medicine.
“You may or may not want to double up on pills. Some medicines, like blood thinners, could actually be harmful if you take two doses at the same time, and sometimes it’s better to skip it if you forget to take it one day,” said Gross.
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5. Is this drug safe to take with other medicines?
One of the things pharmacists know better than anything else is how drugs interact with each other. Taking several medicines, vitamins, herbals, or supplements at the same time can make them ineffective and even harm your health. Certain foods can even interfere with medication.
“The computers at different pharmacies aren’t connected, so tell the pharmacist everything you’re taking when you fill a prescription,” said Wolfe. “Even with vitamins and supplements, there can be interactions with medications.”
If you have any questions about a medication, you not only can but you should get advice from a pharmacist before taking it. Contact a pharmacist by visiting or calling the pharmacy where you filled your medication. Some pharmacies are open 24 hours, so don’t hesitate to call at any hour of the day—or night.