How to Read a Prescription Label

Posted by Thomas & Wickenheiser on Jan 2, 2020 7:45:00 AM

There’s a wealth of information if you know where to look.

Quick. Think of a prescription medication you’re currently taking (or have taken in the past). Can you name everything that was listed on the label? If you’re like most of us, chances are you can’t. Of course, you probably thought of the drug name, dosage, and refill info, but there is so much more.

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The truth is most of us don’t really read our prescription labels. According to Consumer Reports, research has found that fewer than 10 percent of people examine their drug containers for warnings. And, a Northwestern University study showed that nearly half of patients misunderstood at least some of the information on the label. When you compound these facts with actual pharmacy labeling errors and inconsistencies, there is far greater potential for actual harm to the patient. Your first line of defense is understanding your medication label and what to look for.

General Information. The following four items should be front and center on your label:

  • Patient’s Name -- make sure it is your prescription.
  • Prescription Number – each prescription has a unique numeric designation, and that number is how providers track the initial prescription and any refills.
  • Pharmacy Name and Address and Phone Number – You should know where your prescription was filled and how to get in touch with a pharmacist with any questions.
  • Prescribing Doctor and Date Prescribed – If you feel there is an error or a change needed in your medication, you will need to contact your doctor, not the pharmacy.

Usage and Drug Information. Before you take the medication, be sure you read and understand the following:

  • The name of the medication. This is a common error area for pharmacies – check it carefully to make sure it is the correct medication.
  • The prescribed dosage. This is another key error area for pharmacies – confirm that you were given the correct dosage as prescribed by your physician.
  • The number of pills or tablets in the container.
  • Instructions on how and when to take the medication. Often, these can be vague or not easily understood. Please check with your physician or pharmacist if you have any questions.
  • Fill and refill information, including initial fill date, refills available, etc.
  • Key warnings, including negative interactions or activities to avoid. Don’t take these as comprehensive, especially if this is your first time taking the medication. Ask your pharmacist or physician if you have any questions.
  • Expiration date, also known as the discard date. You should not use the medication after that date.

If you do experience any negative reactions you believe may be related to a prescribed medication, contact your doctor immediately. Don’t decide to discontinue or make adjustments on your own.

A little time invested up front in reading and understanding all the information on your prescription label can protect you in the long run. Never hesitate to ask questions if you don’t fully understand what you’ve been prescribed, how to take it, or if any other issues or health concerns arise as you are taking the medication.

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