Master Your Medicine: How to Better Understand Your Prescription

In this video, learn how to better understand your medication regimen so you can feel good about the medicine you’re taking.

Brittany DoohanMera Goodman, MD, FAAP
Written by Brittany Doohan | Reviewed by Mera Goodman, MD, FAAP
Updated on November 14, 2021

Your doctor prescribed a new medicine to you. You don’t quite understand why, but you trust that your doctor knows what he or she doing. After about a month, you don’t feel much different, which makes you wonder: _Is this medicine even working?

If you’re not feeling or seeing an improvement while taking your medicine, it’s understandable that you may feel like it’s not doing its job. The thing is, many medicines may seem like they’re not doing anything, but in reality, they’re actually working really hard behind the scenes. Even though you can’t feel it, they’re helping.

“For silent chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, it may be working, but you may not be feeling the effects,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical editor at HealthiNation and a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

If you’re feeling like you don’t understand your prescription, don’t stop taking it. Medications only work if you take them as directed. It can be dangerous if you skip doses, elect not to take a prescribed medicine, or take too much.

Instead, get to know your medicine, so you can feel better about taking it. Here’s how:

TIP #1: Ask your doctor what you can expect.

Whether you’ve been taking your medicine for a while or you’ve just been prescribed, it’s important to discuss your treatment plan with your doctor and ask questions. You have every right to know exactly how your medication is going to affect you.

At your next appointment, ask these questions:

  • How is this medicine working in my body?

  • How long will I have to take this medicine?

  • What’s the long-term goal of this medication?

  • What are the side effects?

  • What happens if I miss a dose?

  • How long until I will see results?

  • What are the benefits vs. risks?

  • Are there tests to make sure the medications are working?

Write down any questions or concerns you have before your appointment so you don’t forget.

TIP #2: Write down, repeat, and review.

At your appointment, write down the medication information, your treatment plan, and the answers to your questions.

Then, “repeat back to your doctor exactly what you think the instructions are to take the medications and what you expect,” says Dr. Parikh. “Actually show your doctor what you wrote down and review it again with them.”

Being thorough in this process will help clear up any miscommunication that may lead to confusion down the road.

TIP #3: At the pharmacy, ask for a patient handout.

When filling your prescription, talk to your pharmacist about any questions or concerns you may have and be sure to ask for a patient handout.

“Read the prescription information at the pharmacy and reread it when you refill your medication in case there are any changes,” says Punkaj Khanna, PharmD, a pharmacist based in New York City.

Understanding your medications and taking them as directed is just as important to your health as getting enough exercise and eating a nutritious diet.

“Remember: You, your doctor, and your pharmacist are a team, so work together and make sure you’re getting the best treatment plan possible,” says Dr. Parikh.

Additional Medical Contributors (2)
  • Preeti Parikh, MDPreeti Parikh, MD is the Executive Medical Director at GoodRx and served as the Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation.
    • Punkaj Khanna, PharmDPunkaj Khanna earned his Pharm.D. from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. He works at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and has special interests in patient education and compliance.


      Medication Adherence. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association. (Accessed on November 14, 2021 at https://edhub.ama-assn.org/steps-forward/module/2702595)

      Understanding Medication Adherence. Washington, DC:  CardioSmart, American College of Cardiology. (Accessed on April 4, 2019 at https://www.cardiosmart.org/News-and-Events/2015/07/Understanding-Medication-Adherence)

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      Let's Talk About Medication Adherence. Washington, DC: CardioSmart, American College of Cardiology. (Accessed on November 14, 2021 at https://www.cardiosmart.org/~/media/Documents/Infographics/Medication-Adherence.ashx)

      GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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