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By Laura Linger

5 questions to ask your doctor when starting a new medication

A patient simply must serve as their own advocate in today's demanding world of healthcare. The days of visiting the "family doctor" no longer exist. Patients are lucky to get a full fifteen minutes of a doctor's time, in which much ground must be covered.

It can all be more than a little overwhelming, especially when new medications are prescribed. Worse, the patient may not think of important questions to ask until after the appointment.

Patients therefore need a strategy, bearing in mind that they are their own best advocate when it comes to their own health. When a doctor prescribes a new medication for a patient, it would be smart for the patient to have some questions written out in advance. The patient should also bring a pen to jot down necessary instructions and answers the doctor gives:

1. Why is this medication being prescribed for me?

This may seem an elementary thing to ask, but it is so important. Be sure you are clear as to what the medication is. Be sure that you are clear about the name of the medication and the spelling, and the reasons why the medication was chosen. If you don't feel comfortable taking the medication, tell your doctor, so you can discuss your concerns. Perhaps an alternative can be agreed upon.

2. What is the dosage for this medication, and how do I take it?

What is the proper dose of the medication? Is there a starting dose, followed by an amount increase? What time of day is best to take the medication? Should the medication be taken on an empty stomach, or with a meal? Are there any foods to avoid while taking this medication? Is there a starter pack or samples of this medication that I can have?

3. How long will it take for me to see results and effects from taking this medication?

It is only natural to wonder when a medication is going to take effect. Ask your doctor how soon you will see relief of your symptoms because of this medication. The doctor should be able to provide "signposts" for you to look for as you begin the course of treatment.

4. What are the side effects of this medication? Are there any drug interactions?

It is an unfortunate truth that many prescription medications carry with it unpleasant side effects. Ask your doctor up front about the possibility of these, and what you should do if you encounter them. Also be sure to ask your doctor about any medications you are currently taking, both prescribed and over-the-counter. Are there any any interactions you should know about? (It also doesn't hurt to ask your pharmacist about this, also.)

5. When will the next conversation about this medication take place?

It is best to leave your doctor's office with a plan for the next appointment. Prescription medication requires vigilance and a certain amount of maintenance, and you deserve that level of care from both yourself and your doctor. At the next appointment, you can discuss your treatment and what your next steps are.

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