When you have a question about your prescription or medication, who are you going to call?
Most likely a pharmacist.
When it comes to taking new medications – or mixing an old prescription with new ones, for example – it’s normal to have questions about how to use your medicines effectively and safely.
“The doctor’s always going to prescribe what’s best for the patient but in the pharmacy, for one, we’re the final catch for any possibility of an issue that there could be with a dosage the patient can be getting perhaps,” Alan Strashok, a pharmacist at Express Scripts Canada, says. “We may also notice that this particular patient is also on a supplement that could affect the way that most recent prescription works.”
That’s why it’s important that should you visit your pharmacist that you have a list of questions, as well as an updated list of medications you take, readily available, Strashok says.
In fact, asking questions about your medications could save your life.
According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada, about 98,000 deaths per year are attributed to preventable medical mistakes. That’s more than deaths due to car accidents, breast cancer or AIDS.
And despite systems put in place to ensure safe medical practices (which includes medication safety), every now and then, a few incidents can slip through the cracks due to verbal miscommunications and confirmation biases.
But by asking questions and being aware and proactive, patients can ensure they’re getting the right medications, the right instructions and the right information.
If you’re not quite sure what to ask, however, Strashok offers a little insight into what kinds of questions people ask their pharmacist.
Here are the top five, according to Strashok.
1. Do prescription drug prices change from pharmacy to pharmacy? And what can I do as a patient to help control how much I spend on medications?
It’s also really important to see what kind of value you’re getting for what you’re paying for, he adds.
A big difference in price, Strashok says, often comes down to dispensing fees.
“Dispensing fees can typically average from $11.50 per item,” he explains. “And in some provinces, there can be a multi-tiered prescription pricing system on dispensing fees based on how much the drug costs.”
There can also be percentage markups of up to 40 per cent.
So how can you control how much you spend on medications? Strashok says to limit the amount of time you dispense the product if it’s a long-term medication, as dispensing fees can quickly add up.
2. Do generic drugs work as well as brand-name drugs?
“In pharmacy these days, we really encourage generic drug use,” Strashok says. “Generic drugs are acquired and dated by Health Canada, who protects the public and watches out for manufacturing practices of all medications, including in both generic and brand-name drugs.”
In fact, Strashok says that generic drugs are required to have a very similar concentration of the same ingredients as brand-name drugs.
“Sometimes, the binder and fillers that hold up the tablets and capsules together vary slightly, but the overall effect would be considered to be interchangeable and the same,” he explains.
Generic medications are also typically substantially cheaper, in which case, Strashok highly encourages people to request generic drugs when possible.
3. Can I drink alcoholic beverages while I am on antibiotics?
Simply put, it all depends on what you’re taking as the answer may vary from drug to drug, not just antibiotics.
It’s a question that you should have answered by your pharmacist, Strashok says, because pharmacists are aware of any adverse effects that may result from drinking alcohol while on certain medications.
If there is an issue drinking alcohol while on your medication, it will often be indicated on the label of your prescription, Strashok points out.
However, again, if you’re not sure or you want to confirm, check with your pharmacist.
4. I’m getting a rash or stomach ache – does it mean I’m allergic to the medication?
Not necessarily or always, Strashok says.
Remember that taking a new medication can come with some side effects, which is what may be causing the rash or stomach ache.
Normally, however, your doctor and pharmacist will engage in a consultation with you to let you know about the logistics of the medication – how you should be taking it, and how it can affect you.
If your doctor and pharmacist highlight potential dangerous side effects, those are the ones you should be paying attention to, in which case a doctor should be notified right away, Strashok says.
5. I got this flare-up of a certain symptom again, and the last time I had this symptom, it turned out to be this ailment and I was given this medication to treat it. I still have some of that medication left over – can I just continue using that same medication?
The short answer is no.
As Strashok puts it, there may be a number of factors to consider.