The final part in a three-part series focused on patients with multiple medications

This is the third and final column in a series that takes a look at the issue of polypharmacy — too many medicines prescribed by too many doctors for too many conditions and possibly too many pharmacies involved in the dispensing of said medicines. Sound like a problem? It certainly can be.

You have heard the adage “knowledge is power,” right? This is an instance where that is so very true. The more you know about the medicines you are taking and what they are supposed to do, the better equipped you will be to alert your health care provider (HCP) if you think something is amiss.

Following is a list of questions compiled by the Family Caregiver Alliance of the National Center on Caregiving that you may want to ask any time a medication is being recommended for you or a loved one.

Why is this medicine being prescribed? How does the medicine work in my body? How can I expect to feel once I start taking this medicine? How will I know that the medicine is working? Is there a typical time period after which my symptoms should improve? How long will I have to take the medicine? Will I need a refill when I finish this prescription? Will this medicine interact with other medications—prescription and nonprescription—that I am taking now? Should I take this medicine with food? Are there any foods or beverages I should avoid? (Grapefruit, for example, may interfere with the action of certain medications.) Is it safe to drink alcohol while on this medicine? Are there any activities I should avoid while taking this medicine? Can this medicine be chewed, crushed, dissolved, or mixed with other medicines? What possible problems might I experience with the medicine? How can I prevent these problems from occurring? At what point should I report problems with the medicine? What should I do if I miss a dose of this medicine, or take too much? What is the cost of the medicine prescribed? Is there a less expensive alternative prescription? Is a generic version of this medicine available? If so, should I purchase the generic instead of the brand name medicine? Do you have written information about the medicine that I can take home with me? Does the pharmacy provide special services such as home delivery or comprehensive medication review and counseling?

This may seem like an overwhelming list of questions, but if you are already taking several medicines, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter, the conversation between you and your HCP that will ensue can be invaluable. You can never take for granted that a new medicine will work well, right away, with no side effects or interactions with ones you may already be taking.

So remember, knowledge is power when it comes to you and your loved ones’ medication regimens. Keep a good list, share it with all your HCPs and make sure you know what is being prescribed and why before you leave the office. You can do your part to make sure that polypharmacy and medication errors are not a part of your health scenario.

Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at or 585-335-4327.