When it comes to starting a new drug, it’s normal to have questions— and your doctor expects it. "Patients worry their questions might be interpreted as second-guessing,” says Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports’ medical adviser. “But we want our patients to be informed so they can make sure they can follow their medication instructions as well as understand the risks and benefits of taking the drug."
To address this, we encourage you to make it a habit to ask three questions each time your doctor writes you a new prescription:
1. Why should I take this drug? Drugs to treat many common conditions—such as diabetes and high blood pressure—are often prescribed long term, and maybe for the rest of your life. So it’s critical you understand what the medication is for and how long you should take it. If you are not sure you want to take the drug, ask if there are nondrug options to help your condition, such as improving your diet, exercising more often, stopping smoking, or even counseling.
2. Are there any side effects? All medications have side effects, such as drowsiness, dry mouth, headaches, or nausea. Ask about any common side effects that the drug could cause, as well as more serious ones. If a side effect is a problem for you, your doctor may suggest ways to manage or reduce it. For example, diuretics used to treat high blood pressure may send you to the bathroom more often. So your doctor may suggest you take the pill in the morning so that you don’t go to the bathroom as much during the night.
3. Is there a generic form of this drug? If your doctor prescribes a brand-name drug, always ask if there’s a generic version. Many people—including physicians—assume that newer drugs are better, but that’s not necessarily true. More than 80 percent of all medications in the U.S. are available as a generic and studies consistently find that older medications are as good, or even better, than newer ones. If your doctor tells you a generic isn’t available, as is the case with many newer brand-name drugs, ask if a generic version of an older drug in the same class would work as well.