Can I take this medication with that one?
Two-thirds of patient visits end with the doctor pulling out the prescription pad, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. It's no wonder, then, that more than 10 percent of Americans are currently taking five or more medications. That's a lot of pills to keep straight. According to the Food and Drug Administration, medication errors (like receiving the wrong dose or taking drugs that don't mix) cause at least one death each day and account for about 1.3 million injuries a year—a truly alarming figure, considering that such casualties are largely preventable.
Be prepared: If you're taking it, take it with you. Just writing down the names of medications leaves too much room for error; one misspelled word or misplaced decimal point changes everything. Instead, gather up pill bottles (over-the-counter and supplements included) and bring them to your appointment. Another option: Snap pictures of Rx labels with your camera phone. This will provide your doctor with valuable information in case she wants to put you on a new medication. And don't forget to take advantage of one of your greatest health resources—your pharmacist. She's in the best position to sound the alarm on potentially dangerous drug interactions.
Is there another option?
So let's assume you've received the right diagnosis. The final potential land mine: treatment. For many conditions, there are several alternatives for care, often ranging from the conservative (wait and see) to the aggressive (surgery), and each approach comes with its own risks and benefits. But recent research suggests that doctors don't always do a good job of informing you of all your choices. And that can lead to what's known as preference misdiagnosis—when your doctor makes an assumption about which treatment you'll want and, as a result, presents you with only a narrow range of options. One study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that when women with abnormal menstrual bleeding were given information on treatment options and asked about their preferences, they were more than 20 percent less likely to choose a hysterectomy than those not asked about their preferences.
Be prepared: Before signing off on any treatment plan, request information about all available options. Then have a frank discussion with your doctor about what's important: Would you prefer to take an array of medications daily if you could avoid surgery? Or would you rather go under the knife if it meant never taking pills again? One choice may not be better than the other; what does matter is finding the path that best fits your life.
Mehmet Oz, MD, is the host of The Dr. Oz Show (weekdays; check local listings).
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