8 things to ask when your doctor prescribes a new med
The older you are, the more doctors – your primary care physician and specialists – you’re likely to be seeing, and the more medications they’re likely to prescribe.
FDA-approved prescription drugs are safe and effective when taken by themselves. But with the prospect of needing to take more than one, it pays to learn more about what you’re getting into – or, more literally, what’s getting into you:
1. Will I need to start taking it right away? Is there some other remedy, like a change in diet or an exercise regimen, that might work instead? Is one of those worth trying first? Conditions like high cholesterol and moderately high blood pressure, for example, are chronic, not emergencies, so exploring alternatives shouldn’t be life-threatening.
2. What are the side effects? There are two kinds of potential side effects – from the medication itself and from the way it may react with other meds you’re taking. With the former, you might want to think about whether putting up with those side effects is worth the new drug’s benefits. For the latter, Medicare regulations require that your different providers should be able to share your electronic health information [link to How Medicare pays doctors and hospitals to give seniors better care when posted], including prescription records. But it doesn’t hurt to go over the list with your doctor again, just to be sure. And if, like most people, you haven’t memorized the list, listing your meds and supplements on your smartphone’s health app is a good idea.
3. How will it interact with other prescriptions I’d be likely to need in the future? You may not need blood pressure, cholesterol, or other meds now, but you may in the future. Looking ahead lets you factor the future into your present decisions.
4. Are we sure I need to take this? Is the doctor’s recommendation for a long-term med based on the results of a one-time test? One-time test results can vary. Blood tests vary with the time of day, whether you ate beforehand, and how much sleep you got the night before. Blood pressure can vary from hour to hour. And when different people interpret imaging tests like MRIs and CT scans, they can reach different conclusions. So ask to repeat the blood tests or the blood pressure reading at a different time of day or under different conditions – and get a second opinion on those imaging scans.
5. What if I have to go off the drug sometime in the future? When you take hormone supplements, for example, your body can come to rely on the med for the hormone and stop producing it on its own. So what do you do for the hormone if the supplement develops intolerable side effects in the future?
6. What’s the track record of the medication with older people like me at the does you’re recommending? All prescriptions have to undergo rigorous clinical testing. But 30somethings aren’t the same physiologically as 70somethings, so the people in the tests may have been years younger than you. And if you have, say, diabetes or coronary artery disease, they may not have had those yet.
7. What are the results of long-term studies for this drug? If you’re going to be taking it for the rest of your life, the findings of a 20-year study could be important for to know about.
8. Is there an older version of the medication I can take? Older drugs may not be as hot and whizzy as the latest ones, but they may be better choices. For one ting, they’ve been used over a longer period of time. During that time, they’ve been taken by a population pool of millions of people in daily life – not just a few thousand under strictly controlled conditions that are anything but real-world. That’s the main advantage. A secondary advantage is that they may have been around long enough for their patents to have expired, so you can take generic versions with lower co-pays.
Prescription decisions aren’t the only kind that all come down to the individual. There’s no such thing as a generic approach to senior care and senior life.
So while many senior care agencies base their care recommendations strictly on the capabilities they offer, we base ours on the fact that every person is different.
Before we recommend any kind of coordinated care management plan, our thorough three-part needs assessment examines each client’s physiological mental, functional, cognitive, and social health. (It also includes ascertaining what clients’ and family caregivers’ specific values, needs and desires are, so we can honor those as well.)
Our monthly Registered Nurse assessments go way beyond just taking vital signs and are more like mini-needs assessments. And we can accompany clients to doctor appointments, make sure their doctors know about any health changes those assessments discovered, and help assure that their medical care is truly coordinated and holistic.
To learn more about what this approach can do, please contact us for a consultation. It could be just what the doctor ordered.