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Please consult a licensed health care professional with questions or concerns about your medication and/or condition.

Last Updated
March 8, 2017

Over the last few years, consumers have become more responsible for their own decisions - especially when it comes to taking care of their health.

This section will help consumers make sound decisions about a very important, and sometimes frequent, part of good health: use of medicines. Two out of three doctor visits end with a prescription being written. While taking medicines is very common, it's not always easy to take them correctly.

More people are using medicines that do not require a doctor's prescription, called "over-the-counter" (OTC) medicines. (Since 1990, sales of OTC medicines have increased by more than 60 percent.) And the use of dietary supplements is growing rapidly, too.

What is the best way to promote the safe use of medicines? To start, remember to "Educate Before You Medicate: Talk About Prescriptions!" This means:

  • Ask questions about instructions for use, precautions, and side effects whenever a new medicine is prescribed.
  • Share information with doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other health care professionals about other prescription and OTC medicines you are taking.
  • Read carefully any written information that comes with the medicine, and save it for future reference.

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This site provides information to help you make the most of your role as a key player on what NCPIE calls the "medicine education team." In turn, knowing what questions to ask and what to tell about your medicines helps you take charge of your health. Remember,"Educate Before You Medicate: Talk About Prescriptions."

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Your Role on the Medicine Education Team

When you begin a new medicine -- whether it is prescribed by your doctor or recommended by your pharmacist -- who is in charge of using that medicine correctly? You are!

And if you have any unexpected problems while using your medicine, who is in charge of writing down those problems, describing the symptoms, and alerting a health care professional immediately, if necessary? You are!

Yes, taking medicines -- whether they are prescribed or purchased "over-the-counter" -- is common, but taking them correctly is not always easy. In fact, if you are taking different medicines, it may be difficult to remember what each one is for, and how and when to take them.

That's why the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) wants you to Talk About Prescriptions. You are a very important team member among everyone working to help you get well!

Questions that NCPIE recommends you ask are in the section below.

You may ask, "How and when do I Talk About Prescriptions?"

(Print out this list below. A poster of these questions is also available through our Resources catalog.)

Before You Leave the Doctor's Office, if You are Given a New Prescription, Ask:
1. What is the name of the medicine and what is it supposed to do? Is this the brand or generic name? (Is a generic version available?)
2. How and when do I take the medicine - and for how long?
3. What foods, drinks, other medicines, dietary supplements, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
4. What are the possible side effects, and what do I do if they occur?
5. When should I expect the medicine to begin to work, and how will I know if it is working?
6. Will this new prescription work safely with the other prescription and non-prescription medicines I am taking?

If you have questions about specific medicines, please visit the National Library of Medicine's website and click on "Drug Information".

At the Pharmacy, or Wherever You Obtain Your Medicines, Ask:
(Print out this list.)
1. Do you have a patient profile form for me to fill out? (If not, then create your own by clicking on Medication List. Print this out, complete the form and show it to your pharmacist before your prescription is filled.) Will it include space for my non-prescriptioin drugs and any dietary supplements?
2. Is there written information about my medicine? Ask the pharmacist to review the most important information with you. (Ask if it's available in large print or, if necessary, in a language other than English.)
3. What is the most important thing I should know about this medicine? Ask the pharmacist any questions that may not have been answered by your doctor.
4. Will any tests or monitoring be required while I am taking this medicine?
5. Can I get a refill? If so, when?
6. How should I store this medicine?

If you have questions about specific medicines, please visit the National Library of Medicine's website and click on "Drug Information".

In almost all states in the U.S., by law the pharmacy must ask if you would like to be counseled about your medicine. It is important to get your questions answered, so that you can use your medicines safely. Your pharmacist is part of your "medicine education team," too!

Who is the best person to "Talk About Prescriptions?" Whichever health care professional(s) you feel most comfortable with, who listens to your questions and concerns. You can Talk About Prescriptions with your doctor, nurse, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, and/or your pharmacist.

Using your medicines safely requires a team effort. Remember your role on the Medicine Education Team!

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