Getting to Know Your Medications

Tips for avoiding harmful interactions and tracking your medications

Updated on: June 7, 2018

Originally posted on: September 22, 2014
Express Scripts Pharmacist Mr. Reyes specializes in medication management issues for seniors. Topics include best practices for managing multiple prescriptions.

More than half of American Medicare beneficiaries take 5 or more prescription drugs on a regular basis. One in 4 take between 10 and 19 pills each day. It’s no wonder that harmful drug interactions are a major worry for many seniors. Managing so many medications can take a toll on both your health and your wallet.

To better manage your medications, ask your doctor these 4 important questions:

  1. Which condition does it treat?

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    • When your doctor prescribes a new medicine, the first thing to ask is which condition it treats.
    • Keep track of your medications with a personal medication record. Include prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and dietary supplements.
    • Include the drug’s name, strength, dose, when you take it, what it looks like and which condition it treats. Also list the contact information of the doctor who prescribed it, and the date you started taking it.
    • Be sure to update this record whenever your prescriptions change. If you take a generic medication instead of a brand-name medication, note this information.
  2. Will this drug interact in a harmful way with any of my other medications?
    • Make sure your doctors are aware of any medications you are currently taking before they prescribe a new one.
    • Take your medication record to medical appointments and share with your doctors. Show it to your pharmacist before filling a prescription. These simple steps will help reduce the risk of a medication error or harmful drug interaction.
    • Always ask your doctor if there is anything you should avoid eating or drinking while taking a drug. Some foods and drinks, such as grapefruit or alcohol, can also interact with certain medications.
  3. Are my doctors aware of all the medications I take and do I need them all?
    • Make a copy of your medication record and carry it with you, such as in your wallet or handbag. Keeping it handy lets you provide the list to a new doctor or pharmacist and helps you in case of an emergency.
    • Review your medications with your doctors to see if there might be some drugs that you may no longer need.
    • Reducing the number of drugs you take will lower your risks and save you money.
  4. Is there a generic equivalent or alternative available?
    • Many brand-name drugs have generic versions. One of the easiest ways to cut prescription drug costs is to switch from a brand-name drug to a generic drug.
    • An FDA-approved generic drug is tested for quality and strength and can be expected to work as well as the brand-name version.
    • When your doctor writes a new prescription, ask if a generic drug might be right for you. Generally the doctor will know if a generic equivalent or generic alternative drug is available in place of the brand medication.

The price difference between brand and generic drugs can be significant — generics may cost up to 70% less than brand-name drugs.