Be an Active Member of Your Health Care Team
When it comes to using medicine,
there is no such thing as completely safe. All medicines
have risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
approval of a drug means that the benefits outweigh the
known risks that are outlined on the drug's label.
Physicians, physician assistants,
nurses, pharmacists and YOU make up your health care team.
To reduce the risks related to using medicines and to get
the maximum benefit, you need to play an active role on
The more information your health
care team members know about you, the better they can develop
a plan of care tailored to you. The members of your team
need to know:
- your medical history
- any allergies and sensitivities you have
- the medications you take routinely
and occasionally-prescription and over-the-counter
- any dietary supplements you use, including
vitamins and herbals
- other therapies you use
- anything that may affect your ability
to use the medication
Your health care team members
help you make the best-informed choices, but you have
to ask the right questions. When you meet with a team
member, have your questions written down and take notes.
You may also want to bring
along a friend or relative to help you understand and remember
Use the Question
Guide at the end of this page to help you gather the
information you need from your health care team. If you
don't understand an answer, ask again.
Before you purchase a prescription
or over-the-counter medicine, learn and understand as much
about it as you can, including:
- generic and brand names
- active ingredients
- proper uses--(indications/contraindications)
- warnings and precautions
- interactions--with food, dietary supplements,
- side effects/adverse reactions
- expiration dates
Drug information designed for
the consumer is available from a variety of sources, your
pharmacy, the manufacturer, the library, the bookstore,
and the Internet. If there is something you don't understand,
ask your health care team.
Balance the Benefits and Risks-Make Your Decision
After you have exchanged all
the information, weigh all your options. At this point you
must decide if the benefits you hope to achieve from the
medicine outweigh its known risks. The final choice is yours.
When you are ready to use the
medicine, maximize the benefits and minimize the risks by
following the instructions printed on the drug label:
- Read the label every time you fill
you leave the pharmacy. Be sure you have the right medicine
and understand how to use it.
- Read the label every time you are
about to use the medicine--to
be sure it's the right medicine, for the right patient,
in the right amount, in the right way, at the right
- Take the recommended dose exactly
as prescribed--no matter how
tempted you are to use more to feel better faster.
- Finish all the medicine as directed--even
if you start to feel better before all your medicine
Pay attention to how you feel
and notify your health care team of any problems.
If you have doubts that the
medicine is working effectively, don't stop taking it without
checking with the team. Some medications take longer to
show a benefit, and some need to be withdrawn gradually
to decrease undesirable effects. If you experience a side
effect, let your health care team know immediately. An adjustment
in the dosage or a change in medication may be needed.
Use this guide to gather the
information you need to know from your health care team.
- What are the brand and
generic names of the medicine?
- Can I use a generic form?
- What is the medicine for
and what effect should I expect?
- Does this drug replace
any other medicine I have been using?
- How and when will I use
it, what amount will I use, and for how long?
- What do I do if I
miss a dose?
- Should I avoid any other
medicines, (prescription or over-the-counter), dietary
supplements, drinks, foods or activities while using
- When should I notice a
difference or improvement?
- When should I report
back to the team?
- Will I need to have
any testing to monitor this drug's effects?
- Can this medicine be used
safely with all my other medications and therapies?
- Could there be
- What are the possible side
- What do I do if a
side effect occurs?
- How and where do I store
- Where and how can I get
written information about this medicine?
- What other sources
of information can I use to make my decision