Understanding how to properly use medications is key to successfully recovering from spine conditions and to your overall safety. While the plastic prescription bottle clearly states the dosage, so many questions may be left unanswered, including:
- Will this medication interact with other drugs I’m taking?
- How do I store this drug?
- My doctor said I should take this drug every four hours, but the bottle says every six hours—what do I do?
Much can be lost in translation from the time your physician writes your prescription to when your pharmacist fills it. That’s why it’s important to have open clear lines of communication with both your doctor and pharmacist to ensure you know as much as possible about your medication. The 10 tips below will help you advocate for your health in the complex world of prescription drugs.
#1. Tell your doctor about every medicine you take and bring them to your visits. Every person on your health care team, from your primary care physician to your spine surgeon, should know the drugs you’re taking—this includes prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbs, supplements, and vitamins. If you have an extensive medication regimen, it may be easier for you to bring your medicines with you to your appointments to ensure your medical team clearly understands what you take.
#2. Get to know your pharmacist. You make appointments to see your doctor to discuss your health, but how well do you know your pharmacist? Your pharmacist is a key member of your health care team and should also know every medication you take—even if it’s not a prescription. He or she will keep the information on file to protect against potential drug interactions. As your drug regimen changes, stay safe and organized by updating and reviewing this list with your pharmacist to identify any possible risks.
#3. Alert your doctor and pharmacist to medication allergies and adverse reactions. Even if it was a seemingly mild reaction to a medication, tell your doctor about it. Make sure your pharmacist knows this information, too. He or she will update the pharmacy’s records to provide another layer of protection against sending you home with a drug that could potentially harm you.
#4. Speak up if you can’t read your doctor’s handwriting. Don’t be shy about asking your doctor to rewrite a prescription if you can’t read it. If it’s unclear to you, chances are the pharmacist will have trouble reading it, too.
#5. Clarify questions about refills with your doctor. When your doctor writes your prescription, make sure you understand how many refills you’re getting and that your physician has provided enough refills to cover you until your next visit. Prescriptions and refills are valid for only one year. You should also know that even if you doctor puts refills on your prescription, some insurance companies and pharmacies may decline to permit refills without a new written prescription.
#6. Ask your doctor and pharmacist to describe details of your back and neck pain medicines in plain language. Talking to both your doctor and pharmacist will make you doubly clear on the ins and outs of your medication. Also, this ensures the instructions provided by your doctor were understood by your pharmacist. Below is a list of questions to drive these conversations:
- What is the medicine for?
- How should I store the drug?
- How should I take the medicine and for how long?
- What side effects are possible?
- Can I take this medicine with the drugs and supplements I currently take?
- Do I need to avoid any food, drink, or activities while taking this medicine?
- For the pharmacist: Will you confirm that the instructions given by my doctor are the same as listed on the drug label?
#7. Get clarity on confusing medication directions. A lot of questions can arise from the simple dosing instructions on a medicine bottle. Does “take six times daily” mean taking a dose every four hours or only during waking hours? If you don’t know, ask your pharmacist.
#8. Ask your pharmacist how to best measure liquid medication.If you’ve been prescribed a liquid medication to manage your back or neck pain, ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure an accurate dose. Using a marked syringe, for example, is a better option than a household spoon.
#9. Have your pharmacist provide written information about your medication’s side effects. One of the essentials of medication safety is knowing when your medication is causing more harm than good. Obtain a list of all possible drug side effects printed from your pharmacist, along with details on what you should do if they occur.
10. Consider pharmacy home delivery or mail service. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge, you’ll risk not properly adhering to your medication. To keep you on track, explore the possibility of your pharmacy delivering your medications to your home or having them mailed to you. Ask your pharmacy if they have a delivery service or check with your pharmacy insurance plan if you prefer mail service.
Better Health from the Pharmacy and Beyond
Back and neck pain can have a significant impact on your daily life. Fortunately, medications are among the most common nonsurgical treatments for spine conditions—and many patients report reduced pain and a quicker return to activities when they use them as directed. But, medicine can also harm you if it’s not taken properly. Having a good relationship with your doctor and pharmacist is the best way to protect your safety and get the greatest benefit from medications.