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Right Drug, Right Time, Right Cost
Why you should work with your doctor, your pharmacist, and your drug plan to make sure you get optimal treatment

You go to the doctor, you get a prescription. That's what happens most of the time when you seek medical help or advice. In just over 67 percent of appointments with a family physician, and over 80 percent of visits to the E.R., according to the Center for Health Statistics, you leave with that little note from your doctor, telling your pharmacist what to give you and what to tell you about taking it.

That prescription will probably use terminology and abbreviations that most of us ordinary folks aren't even supposed to understand.

But remember that being an informed patient includes being a smart consumer. This is a good time to get involved in your treatment plan, to get a little more information, and perhaps even to explore the alternatives. Your treatment is a cooperative effort between you and the doctor, yes, but also the pharmacist, who plays an important role, and the insurance plan that you rely on to pick up most or all of the cost.

While it's easy to assume that the prescription the doctor hands you is for the one drug that will do the job, that's not always the case. The fact is that there is often more than one good option. The doctor's thought process might be as simple as, "I've always done it this way," or "It's better to do something that to do nothing." He or she may think that "this is what the patient wants," or that it is what the referring doctor wants or would expect. Or it could simply be the most common choice, and thus the course of action least likely to lead to complaints or a lawsuit if anything goes wrong.

The chances are good that your doctor will welcome the chance to bring you into the loop when you ask for a little more information. What you want, of course, is the right treatment at the right time to address your health concern.

Questions to ask your doctor might include the following:

  • Do I really need this test, treatment, or procedure?
  • What are the downsides?
  • What happens if I do nothing?
  • What is this prescription?
  • What's the common name for it?
  • Why do you recommend this particular one?
  • Is there a specific reason in my case to avoid any of the other drugs?
  • Is there a "therapeutic alternative" or generic drug that can achieve the same treatment goal?
  • Is cost a factor?
  • How will I know if it's working for me, and do you plan to change me to another drug if I don't see any improvement?

These are important questions to ask. Right away, you're up to speed and you're a full partner in your treatment plan.

It's just as important to keep the lines of communication open when you get to the pharmacist. For one thing, the chance that there will be some miscommunication or error, and that you will walk away with the wrong drug – which studies show happens thousands of times every year in Canada – is all but eliminated. You know what you're supposed to be getting, and why.

Remember, it's not the pharmacist's role to second-guess your doctor, the diagnosis or the treatment plan. It's his or her role to advise you and to help implement the doctor's drug therapy plan.

The pharmacist will ask you about allergies, whether you've ever taken this drug before, what other drugs you may be taking, and even whether you are using any supplements or natural remedies.

Then it's your turn to ask questions.

  • Is this covered by my drug plan?
  • Is there a co-pay, and how much cost will I be responsible for paying myself?
  • Am I going to "max out" the annual limit on my drug plan?
  • Is there a more economical alternative that is medically equivalent?

Sometimes, if the answers to any of those questions is "yes," your pharmacist can just make a substitution. In some other cases, he or she can actually consult with your doctor to arrive at a new treatment option.

Either way, it's important to remember that your treatment is a cooperative effort between you, your doctor, your pharmacist, and your insurance plan. Good communication is the key to making sure you get the right drug at the right time for the right price.

If there is a topic that you would like me to write about,
please email me at billz@callerygroup.com.

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