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Agency for Healthcare Research Quality

Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe. (with wallet card)

You can learn more about how to take medicines safely by reading this guide. It answers common questions about getting and taking medicines and has handy forms that will help you keep track of information. Keep this guide with your medicines in case you have any questions, concerns, or worries. Use the Wallet Card at the end.

This guide was developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE).

Select to download the print version (PDF File, 1.2 MB). Plugin Software Help.


Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe.
Four Ways To Be Smart and Safe with Medicines
   1. Give Your Health Care Team Important Information
   2. Get the Facts About Your Medicine
   3. Stay With Your Treatment Plan
   4. Keep a Record of Your Medicines
   List Your Doctors and Pharmacists Here
   Medicine Wallet Card (PDF File, 120 KB). Plugin Software Help.
   Questions To Ask Before You Take Your Medicine (PDF File, 128 KB). Plugin Software Help.
   Notes (PDF File, 18 KB). Plugin Software Help.
For More Information
How To Order Copies of This Guide

Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe.

Have you ever had a problem with your medicines? You are not alone. There are so many things to keep track of. For example, you may have asked yourself:

  • When exactly should I take my medicine?
  • Is it safe to take vitamins when I take a prescription medicine?
  • Now that I feel better, can I stop taking this medicine?

Medicine is prescribed to help you. But it can hurt if you take too much or mix medicines that don't go together. Many people have problems each year, some serious, because of taking the wrong medicine or not taking the right medicines correctly.

You can help yourself get the best results by being a part or your "health care team." Your health care team includes:

  • The doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or other professionals who prescribe your medicine or are in charge of your care.
  • A nurse who helps you at home, a doctor's office, or a hospital.
  • The pharmacist who fills your prescription and can answer questions about your medicines.

Photo of woman seated behind a glass of water, pills, and a box labeled with days of the week

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Four Ways To Be Smart and Safe with Medicines

1. Give Your Health Care Team Important Information

Be a partner with your health care team. Tell them about all the medicines, vitamins, herbals, and dietary supplements you're taking. This includes:

  • Prescription medicines.
  • Medicines you can buy without a prescription, such as aspirin, diet pills, antacids, laxatives, allergy medicine, and cough medicine.
  • Vitamins, including multivitamins.
  • Dietary or herbal supplements such as St. John's wort or gingko biloba.

List them all on the Wallet Card in (PDF File, 120 KB; Plugin Software Help).

Be sure to tell your health care team:

  • If you have allergies (including medicine-related allergies) or if you have had problems when taking a medicine.
  • About other doctors or health professionals who have prescribed medicine for you or suggested that you take a vitamin or herbal supplement.
  • If you are pregnant, may get pregnant, or are nursing.
  • About any other illness or medical condition you have, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • If cost is a concern. There may be another medicine that costs less and will work the same.

Photo of man talking to his doctor. "I go to my regular doctor for most things, but sometimes I go to a specialist. No matter who I'm going to see, I always take my list of medicines with me and show it to the doctor."

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2. Get the Facts About Your Medicine

Ask questions about every new prescription medicine. Get the answers you need from your health care team before you take your medicine.

If your doctor writes your prescription by hand, make sure you can read it. If you can't read your doctor's handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either. If your doctor submits your prescription directly to the pharmacy, ask for a copy.

Ask your doctor to write down on the prescription why you need the medicine... for example, not just "take once a day" but "take once a day for high blood pressure."

If you have other questions or concerns:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Write questions down ahead of time and bring them to your appointment.

By asking questions now, you may prevent problems later.

Questions To Ask Before You Take Your Medicine

Select for a list of Questions To Ask Before You Take Your Medicine (PDF File, 128 KB; Plugin Software Help).


  • Write your questions down ahead of time. Keep a list of questions you want to ask your health care team. Take the list to your appointment.
  • Be sure to write down what your health care team tells you about your medicine so you remember later.
  • Bring a friend or family member with you when you visit the doctor. Talking over what to do with someone you trust can help you make better decisions.
  • Try to use the same pharmacy so all your prescription records will be in one place.
  • Read and save the information that comes with your medicine. It's often stapled to the bag from the pharmacy.
  • Keep a list of all the medicines, vitamins, and dietary supplements or herbs you take. Add new medicines to the list when you start taking something new or when a dose changes. Show the list to your doctor and the pharmacist. Use the Wallet Card (PDF File, 120 KB; Plugin Software Help).
  • Make a copy of your list. Keep one copy and give the other to a family member or friend
  • Store all medicines together in one designated location in a dry and cool place. The kitchen and the bathroom are bad places to store medicine because of heat and moisture.
  • Make sure medicine does not freeze if you store it in the refrigerator.
  • Throw away any medicine that has expired or that your doctor has discontinued. (Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on how to throw away your specific medication.)

Photo of pharmacist holding a bottle of pills.

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3. Stay With Your Treatment Plan

Now that you have the right medicine, you'll want to carry out the treatment plan. That's not always easy. Medicines may cause side effects. Or you may feel better and want to stop before finishing your medicines.

  • Take all the antibiotics you were prescribed. If you are taking an antibiotic to fight an infection, it is very important to take all of your medicine for as long as your doctor prescribed even if you feel better. If you don't finish, the infection could come back and be harder to treat.
  • Ask your doctor if your prescription needs to be refilled. If you are take medicine for high blood pressure or to lower your cholesterol, you may need your medicine for a long time.
  • If you are having side effects or other concerns, tell your doctor. You may be able to take a different amount or type of medicine.
  • Your medicine was prescribed only for you. Never give your prescription medicine to anyone else or take prescription medicine that wasn't prescribed for you, even if you have the same medical condition.
  • Ask whether you need blood tests, x-rays, or other tests to find out if the medicine is working, if it's causing any problems, and if you need a different medicine. Ask your doctor to tell you what the tests showed.
Photo of woman talking to pharmacist. "I want to make sure all my medicines are OK. So, once a year I call the pharmacist and make an appointment for her to check everything I take. I put all my medicines and vitamins in a bag. I even put in nonprescription medicines like antacids, pain relievers, and laxatives."

Photo of a pill container.

How Can I Keep Track of My Medicines?

Many products can help remind you to take your medicine on time and keep track of how much to take. There are containers you can fill with your pills for each day of the week, calendars to check off, and even products that fit on top of a pill bottle. Ask your pharmacist for help finding the right product for you.


You can get help:

  • At work, there may be a nurse on site.
  • At school, a nurse may be able to help your child take medicines on time and safely.
  • At home, a visiting nurse may be able to help you.

Friends and family can help by:

  • Going with you to the doctor. Ask them to write down information about your medicines and treatment plan.
  • Picking up your medicine. Have them show the pharmacist your list of medicines, vitamins, and supplements. They should ask, "Will this new medicine work safely with the other medicines?"
  • Calling regularly to remind you to take your medicine on time. If you are have problems, let them know.
  • Keeping a daily record of medicine and the time of day so you won't take it twice.

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4. Keep a Record of Your Medicines

Use the Wallet Card (PDF File, 120 KB; Plugin Software Help) to help you keep track of your medicines, vitamins, herbs, and other dietary supplements.

Photo of pill containers and pills.

What Is a Generic Medicine?

Generic drugs are safe, effective, and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They have the same dosage, safety, quality, performance, and strength as brand name drugs. The color or flavor of a generic medicine may be different, but the active ingredient is the same.

After the patent runs out on a brand name drug, companies can apply to the FDA to make a generic copy of that drug. Generic drugs usually cost less than brand name drugs.

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For More Information

To learn about specific medicines, go to and click on "Drugs & Supplements." If you don't have Internet access, go to your local library for help.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has booklets about preventing, diagnosing, and treating common health conditions. For a list of topics, visit

Photo of blonde woman seated in her kitchen with a glass of water and a pill bottle.

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How To Order Copies of This Guide

For up to 10 free copies of this booklet, e-mail the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse at or call 800-358-9295.

Larger quantities can be purchased from the NCPIE, which also offers more information about safe medicine use.

Visit its Web sites: Exit Disclaimer Exit Disclaimer

Or contact NCPIE:

National Council on Patient Information and Education
200-A Monroe Street, Suite 212
Rockville, MD 20850
Phone: (301) 340-3940
Fax: (301) 340-3944

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AHRQ Publication No. 11-0049-A
Current as of May 2011
Replaces AHRQ Pub. No. 03-0019

Internet Citation:

Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe. Patient Guide. AHRQ Publication No. 11-0049-A, April 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD, and the National Council on Patient Information and Education, Rockville, MD.


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