Know Before You Go: The Pharmacy

Colored pills, tablets and capsules

Before you even make a trip to the pharmacy to pick up your prescription medication(s), partner up with your provider and know exactly what’s being prescribed for you. Here are a few things you should be aware of to help avoid any medication errors. “A medication error is any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient or consumer,” according to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention.

Before you go to the pharmacy to pick up your prescription, here are a few helpful tips.

1. Know the exact medication that has been ordered for you by your doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. If your health-care provider writes a prescription, make sure you know exactly what medication it is. Do not just take the prescription and head to your pharmacy.

  • Before the prescription is written, let your provider know all the medications you take. Have a current list of medications with you. These include any prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) medications or supplements, herbal medicines (these are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts and fresh or dried plants), laxatives and birth control pills. To keep a list of medications organized for you and your family, here is a simple Personal Medical History & Medication Form you can print and carry with you.
  • Let your provider know if you have any allergies to food, medications or man-made materials.
  • When the right medication is determined for you, make sure your correct name is legible on the prescription pad, with your correct birth date.
  • Know the name of the exact medication(s) and its use.
  • Know the dose. Is it milligrams (mg), units, milliliters (ml), drops or puffs? Make sure your provider knows your height and weight – this can determine the dosage.
  • Know the route: Is it by mouth, by injection, topical, suppository?
  • Know if it should be taken at a certain time of day. Should it be taken in the morning or in the evening?
  • Know the frequency. How many times per day or week are you required to take the medication?
  • Know the duration. How long will you be taking this medication? When will you expect to see results?
  • Are there any side effects? Are side effects common? Are there long-term side effects? If you experience side effects, what should you do?
  • Is it safe to take an aspirin or ibuprofen along with your other medications?
  • Know how to take it. Should the medication be taken with or without food?
  • Know how the medication needs to be stored. Does the medication need to be refrigerated or stored at room temperature?
  • Know if this is a onetime prescription or if you will need refills. Are there refills included in the prescription?
  • If I miss a dose, what should I do?
  • Should I avoid any activities while on this medication?
  • Do I need to finish all of the medication? What happens if I don’t finish the required amount?
  • Are there any tests or blood work needed as a follow up?

2. When you’re discussing your medication(s) with your provider it may be referred to by the brand name; however when you go to pick up your prescription you may realize the same medication also has another name. Make sure you are 100% clear the exact names of the medication ordered for you. If it’s a brand name, make sure it’s written on the prescription pad and the box “Do not substitute” is checked. If the medication is generic, make sure it’s clearly written.

3. If your provider sent your prescription electronically to your pharmacist, make sure you know exactly what was ordered and follow the above list.