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5 tips for talking with your doctor

Published: September 2013

It’s important for you to know that the information we present on our website is not meant to substitute for a doctor’s judgment. But we hope that it will help you and your doctor arrive at a decision about which medication and dose is best for you, if one is warranted at all, and which will give you the most value for your health care dollar.

1. Mention cost to your doctor.

Bear in mind that many people are reluctant to discuss the cost of medicines with their doctor, and that studies have found that doctors do not routinely take price into account when prescribing medicines. Unless you bring it up, your doctor may assume that cost is not a factor for you.

2. Ask about older medications.

Many people (including physicians) think that newer drugs are better. While that’s a natural assumption to make, it’s not always true. Studies consistently find that many older medicines are as good as, and in some cases better than, newer medicines. Think of them as “tried and true,” particularly when it comes to their safety record. Newer drugs have not yet met the test of time, and unexpected problems can and do crop up once they hit the market. Of course, some newer prescription drugs are indeed more effective and safer. Talk with your doctor about newer vs. older medicines, including generic drugs.

3. Consider generic drugs.

Prescription medicines go “generic” when a company’s patents on them have lapsed, usually after about 12 to 15 years. At that point, other companies can make and sell the drugs. Generics are much less expensive than newer brand-name medicines, but they are not lesser quality drugs. Indeed, most generics remain useful medicines even many years after first being marketed. That is why more than 75 percent of all prescriptions in the U.S. today are written for generics.

4. Keep up-to-date records.

Another important issue to talk with your doctor about is keeping a record of the drugs you take. There are several reasons for this:

  • First, if you see several doctors, each may not be aware of medicines the others have prescribed.
  • Second, since people differ in their response to medications, it’s common for doctors today to prescribe several medicines before finding one that works well or best.
  • Third, many people take several prescription medications, nonprescription drugs, and dietary supplements at the same time. They can interact in ways that can either reduce the benefit you get from the drug or be dangerous.
  • Fourth, the names of prescription drugs—both generic and brand—are often hard to pronounce and remember.

For all these reasons, it’s important to keep a written list of all the drugs and supplements you take and periodically review it with your doctors.

5. Know the facts.

Finally, always be sure that you understand the dose of the medicine being prescribed and how many pills you are expected to take each day. Your doctor should tell you this information. When you fill a prescription at a pharmacy, or if you get it by mail, check to see that the dose and the number of pills per day on the bottle match the amounts your doctor told you.

Editor's Note:

These materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).



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