Medically Approved

Why it’s time to give your medications a checkup

Man reading a medicine bottle

A comprehensive medication review with your pharmacist could reduce your pharmacy bill and prevent medication interactions. 

Emily Shiffer

By Emily Shiffer

If you live in the U.S. and take a prescription medication, you’re in the majority. Approximately 66% of American adults take at least 1 prescription medication, according to Georgetown University. And older adults today are more likely than in years past to take multiple medications.

If this is the case for you and you’re juggling multiple pills, creams or injections each day, then consider scheduling a comprehensive medication review with your pharmacist. This is a sit-down (or virtual) meeting to go over your medications and your routine for taking them.

The review can help identify potentially dangerous medication interactions that you might not be aware of (such as ones you might experience while taking statins or the antibiotic metronidazole).

“As a pharmacist, I have seen many cases of why medication reviews are important,” says Alyssa Wozniak, PharmD. She's a clinical assistant professor at D’Youville School of Pharmacy in Buffalo, New York. Here, she helps explain some of the most important reasons you should consider scheduling this important medical meeting.

(While you’re here, download your free Optum Perks discount card. It may be able to save you money when you present it to the pharmacist at checkout.)

What exactly happens during a comprehensive medication review?

A medication review can take place at your local pharmacy or over the phone with your pharmacist. The goal is to make sure that the medications you take are right for you and are the best treatments for your specific conditions.

Before your review, you’ll make a list of every prescription and nonprescription medication you take. That means over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements. You can even bring your actual prescription bottles.

Other things that are helpful to bring, if you have them, include:

  • Vaccination records
  • Results of any tests, such as blood glucose or at-home blood pressure readings
  • Any medication recommendations your doctor made at your last appointment

After the review, the pharmacist may contact your doctor to discuss adjusting the dose of something you take. He or she may also provide:

  • Tips on taking a medication properly
  • Recommended lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating or exercising, that help manage chronic conditions
  • A personal medication record that can help you track the dosage and timing of your medications

If you want to prime the conversation, check out these questions to ask your pharmacist. These are useful during a medication review or any time you’re picking up medication.

What kinds of problems can a medication review find?

Over the past few months, Wozniak says that medication reviews have led to several of her own patients changing their medication.

For example, a patient was taking a medication for diabetes but then experienced a reduction in kidney function. A medication review found that the dose needed to be updated to account for the kidney change.

“We were able to immediately get a prescription for a safer dose from the doctor,” Wozniak notes.

Another patient with blood pressure issues shared that he often forgot to take his medications. Four of his meds were for the same condition, he said, so it got confusing. The solution: The pharmacists created a presorted system of medications, packaged with clear instructions.

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“At his doctor’s appointment the next week, his blood pressure was at his goal for the first time since we met him,” Wozniak says.

Recommended reading: Here’s how your pharmacist can help with depression, anxiety and more.

Who is a good candidate for a comprehensive medication review?

There are certain patients who can benefit most from a medication review, says the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). These include:

  • People who take multiple medications
  • Those with multiple health conditions (especially if they’re chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart failure or hypertension)
  • Those who take medications that require close monitoring (such as certain blood thinners)
  • Anyone who has been recently hospitalized or transitioned to another care setting (such as a nursing home or to a new doctor)
  • Those who get prescriptions or OTC medications from a variety of sources, such as multiple pharmacies or doctors

How much does a medication review cost?

Many health insurance plans, including Medicare Part D, cover medication reviews. That means you may pay only a copay, or possibly nothing at all. A recent poll found that 86% of older adults were unaware of this potential benefit.

In the long run, a medication review may actually save you money. For starters, it can identify medications that you no longer need to take. One way this can happen is if you’re taking multiple medications that do the same thing.

A review can also identify less expensive options for a medication you’re already taking, and it can help you avoid harmful interactions. This can help you avoid potentially large medical bills.

Medication-related problems are a major public health issue in the U.S. Roughly 1.5 million harmful health events related to medication happen each year, according to the APhA. And they’re almost always preventable.

If you’re looking for other ways to save money on prescription medication, download the Optum Perks mobile app. It provides discounts at 64,000 U.S. pharmacies.

 

Additional sources
Stats on Rx meds:
Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, Prescription Drugs and Journal of the American Medical Association (2015). ”Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012”
Comprehensive medication review benefits: Medication Therapy Management (MTM) Services, American Pharmacists Association
Best practices: Journal of the American Pharmacists Association (2005). “Definition of Medication Therapy Management: Development of Professionwide Consensus”
Lack of awareness of insurance coverage: University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging (2020). “Older Adults’ Experiences with Comprehensive Medication Reviews”