Don't let a key health care team member be under-used

So who would you consider the most important member of your health care team? Your primary care doctor? Your specialist? Your pharmacist?

In a crucial way, you are the most important member of your health care team. No one but you knows how many medications you take, or what side effects you’re experiencing.

Many of us expect our doctors to be the experts in charge of our health care. They are experts, but on medicine, not on each of their individual patients’ lives.

More than one provider may prescribe medications for you, and you decide to buy and take over-the-counter medicines like aspirin or cough syrup. Maybe a friend recommends an herbal supplement, like valerian or gingko biloba. If you don’t tell your doctor and your specialist what the other has prescribed, or about the over-the-counter medicines and remedies you take, they won’t know. They may be good at medicine, but they’re not psychic.

Medication lists

Many people are reluctant to volunteer information, especially if the provider seems busy. Speak up regardless — it’s very important that your prescribers know about all of your medications. As a pharmacist, I can assure you, we want to hear from you.

One easy way to quickly share prescription details with your provider is to keep a list of everything you take.

There’s a section about this on the Alaska Medication Education website that you may find helpful. Go to and click on the “Take a Med Ed class” button at left. Then click on “4. Reading labels, making a medication list.” This has tips on decoding labels, and a few different medication lists that you can print out.

Some people prefer a full sheet of paper for more room to write; others prefer a wallet-sized list. We have both. The full-sized ones are at the link “sample medicine lists” toward the top of the page; the wallet card is at the link further down the page, “Script Your Future/Alaska Med Ed wallet card.” Of course, you can always make your own by simply writing down all the key information.

More than medication lists

Please also speak up if you’re having any issues with your medications. It’s important for us to know if you are having side effects, for example.

Are you concerned about becoming addicted to a painkiller? Any of your providers or pharmacists would be happy to discuss this with you.

Do you, or does the person you’re caring for, have a hard time opening bottles with child-proof lids? Ask us for bottles with different tops. We can do that for you. There are also arthritis-friendly tools to make opening containers easier.

Do you have a hard time reading your labels? Your pharmacist may be able to print one with larger type. Or a magnifying glass may do the trick. Some people buy puff paint at craft stores to mark their bottles so they can use touch to know which bottle is which. You can also get ‘talking’ bases for pill bottles that record the name of a pill and the directions for taking it.

And of course, speak up if it’s a stretch to afford a medication. We may be able to suggest a generic instead, or a financial assistance program.

Come visit me at the Anchorage Senior Center next month

I’ll be speaking at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center’s third annual Fall Prevention Day on Sept. 23, and I’ll bring wallet cards to share, as well as pill dispensers and magnifying glasses. If you can’t attend for any reason (like you don’t live in Anchorage), email us at and we’ll be happy to send you whichever items you’d like.

We’ve talked in this column about sharing information with your health professionals. Next month, we’ll look at the other side of that conversation – getting information from your health professionals. By asking questions, you may be able to reduce the number of medicines you take, and how much you spend.

Remember that no matter how many doctors, nurses, specialists and pharmacists you see, you are the key to your health.

Lana Bell is a state pharmacist for the Alaska Pioneers’ Homes.

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