One of our most disturbing findings is that so few people are talking to their druggists about dosing, interactions, or medical conditions. In our latest survey, just 42 percent of respondents had a conversation with their pharmacist about their prescription drugs; 26 percent discussed over-the-counter medicines.
If you're seeking answers on the Internet instead of from a health-care professional, you're "swimming in shark-infested waters," John Santa, M.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said. "Brand drug makers have so much money and are so smart that it is very difficult to find information online that they do not influence heavily," he said. "In my mind, unless you are very careful and already well informed, you should assume that whatever you read on the Internet is coming from a drug company."
A lack of understanding about medications can have dire consequences. It is estimated that 25 percent of patients don't take their medications as prescribed, resulting in as many as 188 million visits to clinics and hospitals each year.
"Health-care consumers can and should become active partners with their healthcare practitioners in preventing medication errors and misuse," said Allen Vaida, Pharm.D., executive vice president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization. "Patients should talk to their pharmacists, doctors, and nurses to learn how to take their medications properly and what the side effects are."
But asking questions only at your pharmacy might not be enough. As part of our study, Consumer Reports sent anonymous shoppers to 20 drug stores across the U.S. to ask pharmacists or their assistants about the safety of taking the prescription drug Lipitor along with red yeast rice, an over-the-counter dietary supplement. Both are supposed to lower cholesterol. Taken together, they pose a greater risk of side effects, including muscle, kidney, and liver problems. But in 12 instances, the pharmacy gave the wrong advice.
We found other shifts in the patient-pharmacy relationship and trends that might change your pharmacy experience.