Review your medication labels and take charge of your health.
When was the last time you took a close look at your prescription medications? It’s not exactly easy reading. But your prescription label, and the paperwork that comes with it, contain important details to keep you safe and informed about your health. Reviewing this information at the pharmacy and at home gives you power — to be informed, safe, healthy and an active part of your care.
“It’s a pharmacist’s job to make sure every patient is informed and empowered when they pick up their prescription medication. Patient safety is our number one priority, so we want to remove every obstacle on their health journey,” says David Hopkins, RPh, manager of Geisinger Pharmacy.
Learning about your prescriptions, especially when you’re starting a new medication, doesn’t take long. But it makes a difference.
First, review your prescription label
Your prescription label packs a lot of information into a small space. Besides listing your name, contact information and doctor’s name, your prescription label tells you how to take your medication and how to do it safely. Specifically, get familiar with the following:
- Dosage: The strength of the medication you’ve been prescribed. For pills, this is often in milligrams (mg).
- Instructions: Directions for when to take your medication and how often to take it.
- Description: The shape and color of your medication, as well as any imprinted letters or numbers, if it’s in pill form.
- Warnings: These can be restrictions such as avoiding alcohol or needing to take your medication with food. Warnings can also highlight interactions with other drugs or common side effects, such as drowsiness.
- Expiration: The date when you should stop using this medication. You may see this date written as a “use before” date or a “discard after” date.
Next, look at the package insert
Besides the medication label, your prescription comes with paperwork called a package insert that contains a lot of information about the medication you’ll be taking. Because it follows a standard format required by the Food & Drug Administration, it can be long and some of the information can sound scientific.
It's a good idea to read through the included packet to learn more about your medication. You’ll find information about side effects, medication interactions, risks and warning signs that could indicate something is wrong. There’s even a description of how the medication works in your body so you know how it helps maintain or improve your health. For the Cliff’s Notes version, review the highlights section. It’s a summary of the most important information.
Keep in mind that a lot of information is legally required with your prescription medication. Without context, some of it can be frightening, like potential serious side effects. Discuss any concerns with your pharmacist when you pick up your prescription.
Still have questions? Talk with your pharmacist
While your medication label and package insert contain a lot of information, you may still have questions, especially if you’re starting a new medication. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you fully understand your medication’s instructions, benefits, risks, interactions and restrictions.
“We love when our patients take time to review the important safety information we provide with prescription medications — because it means they’re an active part of their own care, and they can advocate for themselves if they have questions or concerns,” says Hopkins.
Remember: You are your own best advocate when it comes to your health. But you don’t have to do it alone! Your care team, including your pharmacists, are here to help you. Reach out to any member of your care team with questions about your prescription medication, your care plan or your overall health.