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Prescriptions More Common Than Explanations

I always tell you to talk to your doctor before taking any medications or supplements or latching on to a diagnosis. As well-intentioned as these pronouncements are, I sometimes feel like I’m doing the same CYA that drug companies do in ads. Really it’s that I want you to be safe and hope that a doctor’s input may help.

I know even that may be a long shot, a belief backed up by a recent study. The findings indicate that many doctors prescribe medication without explanation of the drug’s purpose and side effects or even it’s name. According to the New York Times article on the study:

“Although there were variations, depending on the type of medicine
prescribed, 74 percent of the doctors mentioned the trade or generic
name of the medicine, and 87 percent stated its purpose. Sixty-six
percent said nothing about how long to take the medicine, 45 percent
did not say what dosage to take and 42 percent failed to mention the
timing or frequency of doses. Physicians mentioned adverse side effects
only 35 percent of the time.”

So you can’t always rely on your doctors for information on drugs, is there anyone who can help?

Check with your pharmacist. They are trained to know drugs inside and out. Many enter the field with a goal of helping people, but the reality of the job doesn’t involve much of that. Most pharmacists I’ve met are more than happy to explain medications — even if they are over-the-counter — and answer questions. If the pharmacist at your local Walgreens is a dud, try the Walgreens that’s two blocks down the street!

Talk to a friendly person in your doctor’s office. Maybe you get along great with the nurse who takes your blood pressure; it can’t hurt to ask for clarification that you don’t get from the doctor. In some offices, a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner returns phone calls for the doctor. You may find that they have more satisfactory answers to your questions. If you get along well with the PA or NP, why not consider making your next appointment with him or her? Or if you’ve always seen the head honcho of the practice, you might consider seeing some other doctors in the practice. They may be less harried and, thus, have a more patient-friendly demeanor.

A naturopathic doctor is another option. By focusing on the person instead of the patient, much of the appointment is about addressing the person’s questions and concerns. Licensed NDs are trained to integrate their treatments with those of western medicine — understanding pharmalogical treatments is a vital component of this practice.

Last but not least, ask your doctor! Yes, it seems like the job should require such explanations, but it’s also a high pressure job. Haven’t you ever forgotten to explain things to your co-workers, employees or clients? Being a recipient of information is as big of a job as being the giver of that information. You aren’t a passive recipient. You’ve got to ask your questions to have them answered. Of course, if your doctor consistently comes up short, it’s probably time to look for a new doc.

One Response to Prescriptions More Common Than Explanations

  1. Christina P says:

    Asking a pharmacist is a great idea–but sometimes it is an iffy proposition if you are a headache patient taking a blood pressure medication or seizure medication “off-label” (not for its usual intended purpose) for headache. Not all pharmacists are sure what to tell you in that situation, as the doses may be different than if you had high blood pressure or a seizure disorder, and the risks that apply to those conditions may not apply to you.

    So be sure that your pharmacist knows what you are taking the medication for–that will clear a lot of confusion that might otherwise occur. Also–pharmacists are the best source of information about potential medication interactions, while your doctor is the best source of information about side-effects of a given medication in the headache population. Headache sufferers tend to be just a bit more sensitive to medications than the general population.

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