Northside Health Library

Taking medicines - what to ask your doctor


Many people take medicines every day. You might need to take medicine for an infection or to treat a chronic illness.

Take charge of your health. Ask and learn about your medicines.

Take Charge of Your Health

Take the time to know about your medicine. Ask questions when you don't know the meaning of a word, or when instructions aren't clear. Write down the answers. Bring a family member or friend to the pharmacy or your doctor’s visits to help you with all of the information.

Get Information about Your New Medicines

When your doctor prescribes a medicine, find out about it. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • Why am I taking this medicine?
  • What is the name of the condition this medicine will treat?
  • How long will it take to work?
  • How should I store the medicine? Does it need to be refrigerated?
  • Can the pharmacist substitute a cheaper, generic form of the medicine?
  • Will the medicine create conflicts with other medicines I take?

Find Out How to Take the Medicine

Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse about the right way to take your medicine. Here are some specific questions to ask:

  • When and how often should I take the medicine? As needed, or on a schedule?
  • Do I take medicine before, with, or between meals?
  • How long will I have to take it?

Know What to Expect with the New Medicine

Ask about how you will feel.

  • How will I feel once I start taking this medicine?
  • How will I know if this medicine is working?
  • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them?
  • Are there any lab tests to check the medicine’s level or for any harmful side effects?

Ask if this new medicine fits in with your other medicines.

  • Are there medicines or activities I should avoid when taking this medicine?
  • Will this medicine change how my other medicines work? Ask about both prescription and other the counter medicines.
  • Will this medicine change how any of my herbal or dietary supplements work?

Ask if your new medicine interferes with eating or drinking.

  • Are there any foods that I should not drink or eat?
  • Can I drink alcohol when taking this medicine? How much?

Ask other questions:

  • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
  • What should I do if I feel I want to stop taking this medicine? Is it safe to just stop?
  • Is it OK to eat or drink food before or after I take the medicine?

When to Call the Doctor or Pharmacist

  • Call when you have questions or you are confused or uncertain about the directions for your medicine.
  • Call if you are having side effects from the medicine. Do not stop taking the medicine without telling your doctor. You might need a different dose or a different medicine.
  • Call if your medicine looks different than you expected.
  • Call if your refill medicine is different than what you usually get.


Your medicine: Be smart. Be safe. Patient Guide. AHRQ Publication No. 11-0049-A, April 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD, and the National Council on Patient Information and Education, Rockville, MD. Accessed June 3, 2012.

Taking medicines safely NIH senior health. Last reviewed January 2011. Accessed May 25, 2012.

Review Date: 6/19/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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