5 tips to begin taking a new prescription the right way

Get smart ideas for taking medication.

Woman being treated with prescription medication looking in her medicine cabinet

Updated on June 13, 2024.

Your healthcare provider (HCP) has given you a new medication. Maybe it’s the first drug you must take every day. Or maybe you’re already taking four other drugs.

Your HCP likely will have talked with you about how often to take the drug. You may have also discussed why following your prescription closely is so important. This is known as “medication adherence.”

But did you talk about the possible challenges of sticking with your medication schedule? Or the effects of not taking your prescription the right way?

Though taking your meds as directed may sound simple, it can be tough for many people. In fact, up to half of people with chronic illnesses don’t take their medications as directed, for a variety of reasons.

One way to prevent this: Plan for obstacles that could keep you from taking your medications as prescribed. It will help you get more benefits from treatment.

Start with your HCP
When you see an HCP, you are often given a lot of new information. It can be tough to remember or understand it all.

For example, you may be taking multiple drugs for more than one health issue. You may need to take them at certain times. Some must be taken with food or water.

Many people have problems getting these details right. You are not alone. But a few tips can help you avoid confusion.

  • Take notes during your healthcare visits. Use a pen and paper or your smartphone.
  • Before you leave the office, read those notes back to your HCP. That way, you are both clear on instructions.
  • If you like, bring a buddy along to ask questions and take notes.

Talk to your pharmacist
Pharmacists are experts in handling medication. They can also answer your questions.

When you get a new prescription, you may be offered a pharmacist consult. This is a chance to ask questions you might have about a new drug. Some states even require this. Don’t be afraid to do it.

Here are some sample questions.

  • What is this medication, and what will it do for me?
  • What is the best way for me to take this drug and when should I take it (with or without food, before bed or in the morning, etc.)?
  • What should I do if I forget a dose?
  • What should I do if I accidently double a dose?
  • What should I watch out for in terms of side effects? What should I do if I have them?
  • Will this drug react with any foods or supplements? 
  • What’s the best source of information if I have other questions?

Be patient
Not every drug will have an effect right away. This can be frustrating.

For example, you may take a drug to treat an illness that doesn’t seem to have symptoms. As a result, you might not know if the drug is working.

In cases like these, wait till your next HCP visit. You can find out if your medication is working and your illness is improving.

It’s important to remember: Drugs used for these illnesses only work if you take them as prescribed. If you stop taking them, your disease may get worse. This can lead to more serious problems.

Don’t stop too soon
With other types of drugs, you may feel better quickly. As a result, you may want to quit taking the drug before it’s time to stop.

One example is antibiotics. They’re drugs used to clear up an infection. When you take them, you may feel better in a few days. You might feel like you’re cured. But stopping antibiotics too soon can cause the infection to return. And it might be much harder to treat.

Sometimes, stopping a medication suddenly can be dangerous. Your body may not react well. So, you need to learn how to taper off them slowly.

Always check with your HCP before you stop taking a medication early.

Think about side effects
When you take a medication, side effects may appear. But they may ease or go away over time. When this happens, be patient while your body adjusts to the medication.

It can help to plan for this. For example, sleeplessness can be a side effect of some drugs in the early stages. In this case, keep your daily schedule light while you adapt.

What happens when side effects don’t go away? This can be a big problem if you’re taking a drug without a set end date. Don’t stop taking your drug. Instead talk to HCP about the benefits and drawbacks of your medication. Sometimes, switching to a different drug can help. 

Seek medical help right away in these cases:

  • If the side effects are alarming.
  • You know the side effects are warning signs of another health problem.

Always ask if you’re not sure.

Make use of digital safety nets
Another common problem with taking medication is getting the details right.

  • When do you take it?
  • How do you take it? With or without food? Do you avoid other drugs?
  • Where do you take it? For example, if the drug must be injected, it’s important to make sure you’re doing it in the right place at the right time.

First, you’ll need to figure out how these factors fit into your schedule. Then, with your HCP’s help, you can find the best way to make them a part of your routine.

You can also try these tips.

  • Many tools can help you remember to take your medication. These include smartphone apps. Search “medication tracker” or “medication reminder” on your phone to find them.
  • Many pharmacies also let you sign up for refill alerts. They may contact you by phone, email, or text. They may even contact your HCP if you’re out of refills.
  • Pharmacies that offer 90-day refills by mail can save you time. You don’t have to make a trip for pickup as often.

Remember that you’re not alone. Your HCP can answer any questions you have. And when it comes to managing your prescriptions, there are no bad questions.

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