Improve Your Health Literacy By Researching Meds

| 05 Oct 2015 | 04:59

In a world where an annual physical can last 15 minutes, how often have you accepted a prescription without a thorough understanding of what the drug is for or its side effects? October is Health Literacy Awareness Month, an issue that the MedShadow Foundation, a nonprofit I founded in 2012, is committed to improving. Our mission is to provide resources to help individuals make educated decisions about medicines by knowing more about potential side effects, risks and benefits of medicines they are prescribed. Although we know that medicine can enhance and save lives, all drugs have side effects. Some are relatively common and well-known, while others are still undetected. Importantly, certain drugs have serious and potentially life-threatening side effects. Improve your health literacy about medicine and side effects and you’ll be more confident and in control about your health. The next time your doctor hands you a prescription, go to and tap into the wealth of information we have amassed at Here’s a summary of tips we offer in a feature called 5 Ways To Research Your Drug’s Side Effects.

Talk to your doctor: Visits to primary care physicians have shrunk to about 15 minutes so it’s helpful to come prepared with notes and questions to share. When discussing treatment options, be sure to tell your physician if you have started a new drug.

Consult your pharmacist: Most people think pharmacists just count pills but pharmacists are the drug information experts. Many are certified in Medication Therapy Management (MTM). Most pharmacy schools require students to complete 2-plus years of pharmacology and pharmacy therapeutics training in addition to other requirements.

Search the Internet cautiously: A Google search for any well known drug will result in thousands of hits. Use only trusted sources, such as sites affiliated with reputable health centers, hospitals or medical schools as well as independent sources such as the Mayo Clinic or Consumer Reports.

When you want to delve deeper about side effects, risks and benefits of medicine, visit

Check out government sources: The FDA regulates and approves prescription and non-prescription drugs, and its website has a wealth of information about drug safety, drug recalls and side effects. The FDA also maintains an Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS), a database of information on adverse event and medication error reports submitted to the FDA.

Reach out to single-disease organizations: Many organizations that specialize in, and conduct research into, a particular condition may have news about the latest drugs and their side effects. Some, such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation offer access to online communities that allow patients to connect with other.

Your doctor and pharmacist will give you expert advice, but only you can decide if taking a medicine is right for you.

Suzanne B. Robotti is a proud Upper Westsider who serves as second vice chair of Community Board 7