Risks vs. Benefits of Medications

How to Decide if Your Treatment Regimen is Right for You

You may have questions or feel concerned about the medication or treatment plan your doctor or other healthcare provider has prescribed. It is important for you to ask questions and learn as much as possible about your condition, your treatment plan and timeline, and the expected outcome.

Asking questions and learning about the risks versus benefits of medications can help you become a fully informed participant in your own health care plan. You should provide information to your healthcare provider so they can gain additional knowledge about your current medications or treatment plans. This information helps your provider to make the right choices for your health care going forward.

Here is a general outline of actions you can take to ensure your treatment is as safe as possible and produces the expected outcome.

Talk to your healthcare provider

This seems so obvious, but it is very important to have face-to-face discussions with your healthcare provider. Write down your questions ahead of time, and be sure to take them with you to your appointment. Things you might consider discussing with your healthcare provider include:

  • your allergies to medications or foods
  • your current medications, including vitamins, over-the-counter drugs, or herbal supplements
  • your current and past medical history, including any pertinent family history and success or failure you have had with other medications
  • ask if there are any drug interactions with your prescribed medications, including over-the-counter or herbal supplements
  • ask about possible side effects of your treatments
  • ask how to start and stop any medication
  • discuss medications costs and your ability to pay for medications

If you feel your appointment may not offer enough time for discussion, call your healthcare provider’s office and schedule additional time. Ask questions not only of your doctor, but also of your pharmacist, nurse, dentist, physical therapist, or any other healthcare provider that you see.

Write down important information

Write down the information you discuss with your healthcare provider. It is easy to forget details, which may be complicated, and you may need to share this with family members, caregivers, or other healthcare providers. You might consider writing down or entering into MedNotes:

  • the names of your medication (both brand and generic), and be sure to include nonprescription medications, such as vitamins or over-the-counter drugs
  • the strength/dose of your medications
  • how often and when you take the medication (morning, afternoon, evening, bedtime; before, with or after meals, etc.)
  • special food or beverage restrictions
  • important drug interactions
  • possible side effects and what to do if one should occur

Read reliable patient information in plain language to better understand the risks and benefits of treatments

There is a lot of false and misleading health information on the Internet. Medical information written for healthcare professionals can often be complicated. Be sure to use reliable sources of online information, including medical encyclopedias, that are developed by healthcare professionals and trustworthy medical institutions. For example, professionally developed medication and disease information written in plain English for patients can be found at Drugs.com. However, as every patient’s circumstance is unique, be sure to always double check medical information with your healthcare provider.

If you join a social network chat, support, or “Answers” group, always confirm any medical information with your personal health care provider

Joining a chat, support or answers site on the Internet can be a reassuring and comforting method of communicating with others who may have your same condition or take the same medications. However, what may apply to one person’s situation may not apply to yours. If you receive medical advice on the Internet, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider prior to taking action to be sure the information is safe and correct. Also, purchasing medications online can be risky, and it is best to avoid this unless medications are sent directly from a confirmed and reputable U.S. pharmacy.

Consider your options

How critical is the medication to your treatment plan and how serious are the side effects? Ask your healthcare provider to discuss your different treatment options and the pluses and minuses of each option.

  • For example, if you are receiving a medication that has only minor side effects, and you are using the medication only for a short period of time, the side effects will be temporary. An example of this is the occurrence of mild diarrhea or softened stools while taking an antibiotic treatment for an infection. Once the antibiotic treatment is finished, the softened stools will usually clear up.
  • On the other hand, if you have a cancer diagnosis and treatment is critical, you may be willing to tolerate side effects in favor of the beneficial or even life-saving effects of the medicine. Even with serious side effects, such as severe nausea or vomiting that may occur with some anti-cancer treatments, your healthcare provider may have methods for minimizing these side effects.
  • Also, consider what medical conditions you may have that would make certain medication side effects dangerous. For example, if you have a history of stomach ulcers you should not take a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain as it may lead to stomach or intestinal bleeding. If you do not have a history of ulcers, NSAIDs may be a safe option for treatment of pain, but NSAIDs can cause stomach upset in some patients. In some cases, you may want to use an alternative pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, for pain. Discuss your medical conditions with your provider, and the possibility of adverse interactions (called a drug-disease interaction) for any new medication that you may be prescribed.

What is your ability to pay for medications?

It is important to discuss cost issues with your healthcare provider. Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed if you cannot afford your medication. Healthcare is expensive, and there are many people who do not have adequate health insurance or funds to cover their medications costs. Your healthcare provider may be able to direct you to special programs, social workers, or discount programs that can help you afford your medication. Also, be sure to tell your healthcare provider that you prefer generic medications that will save you money. If you find that you must skip medications partially or completely due to costs, please discuss this with your healthcare provider who may be able to help you find a solution.

Last updated: 2013-04-09 by L. Anderson, PharmD.

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