4 Things to Ask Your Doctor About Your Medications
As we grow older, medications help us manage our health conditions—but we may, in turn, need help managing our medications! People aged 65+ take on average between four and five different medications, and many take 10 or more. They might be taking prescription medications, over-the-counter preparations, and supplements.
The first step in managing our medications is to discuss them with our doctor. Here are some questions to start the conversation during your next appointment.
- What is this medication for, and do I still need it? Many older patients see several different doctors. Each provider might prescribe several medications. Sometimes patients refill prescriptions indefinitely. The medicines we take can preserve our health and quality of life, but they also can have unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. So it’s worthwhile to have your doctor review all your medications. Your doctor might change your medications, or “deprescribe” drugs that are no longer necessary. (Note: Always consult with your doctor before discontinuing a drug or taking it in a different way.)
- Am I treating my pain in the safest, most effective, way? The current opioid crisis has complicated the treatment of pain. Not so long ago, relying on flawed data, many doctors assured patients that if they were taking an opioid drug only for the purpose of pain control, they would not become addicted. But that turned out to be a falsehood. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines now advise doctors and patients to try non-drug treatments and non-narcotic medications to treat most types of pain, and to use opioid drugs at the lowest dose and only for a short time. If alternate treatments are not effective, ask your doctor for a referral to a pain specialist. Pain is a serious health issue and should not be taken lightly.
- Are the nonprescription drugs I’m taking effective? On TV and online, we see a proliferation of advertising for herbal preparations, supplements and “alternative” treatments, often pitched to an audience of senior consumers. Today seniors spend billions of dollars on these products. Many are worthless and some can be dangerous. Though the companies who market these products often make outlandish claims that doctors “don’t want you to know about this miracle drug,” in fact, your doctor is the one to tell you whether a drug works (if the answer is no, save your money) and whether it is safe (if it’s not, save your life and health).
- Is this drug the best value? The cost of medicines is skyrocketing, and even if a senior has Medicare drug coverage, the out-of-pocket cost can be considerable. If you’re having trouble paying for your medicines, ask your doctor and pharmacist if a generic drug or other alternative is available and/or covered by your prescription drug plan. “Federal law requires generic drugs to be the same as brand-name drugs,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration assures us. “They are as safe and effective and meet the same quality standards as brand-name drugs. They are the same in the way they work, the way they are taken, and the way they should be used.” And when the Medicare Open Enrollment period comes around from October 15 – December 7 each year, be sure to check whether your prescription drug plan still covers the drugs you take.
If you or your loved one lives in a skilled nursing or assisted living community, the staff can help with medication management. You also can talk to your doctor or pharmacist about organizational tools such as a pill box, pre-packaged doses, a medication reminder app or checklist.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about your medications.