Pharmacy Common Questions


General Information

How can I learn more about the medication my doctor prescribed for me?
You can browse medications in the online Healthwise® Knowledgebase and our Drug Formulary Search.

How do I contact my pharmacy?
For pharmacy (medical) questions, contact your nearest Kaiser Permanente pharmacy.

For Mail Order Pharmacy questions, contact:

By phone: 206-630-7979 or 1-800-245-7979

Using and Storing Medications Safely

How will I know if my new prescription is safe to take with my current medications?
Our pharmacists use a state-of-the-art drug interaction computer system to identify and review all potential drug interactions. We will notify your physician of any significant interactions.

It is important that you tell us about all of the medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, and herbals. That way we can be sure to identify all potential drug interactions when you receive a new prescription.

You will be notified by phone if the process of resolving a drug interaction causes a significant delay in filling your prescription.

What should I do if I have a bad reaction to my medication?
If the reaction seems serious or life-threatening — for example, if you have wheezing, tightness in the chest, fever, itching, bad cough, blue skin color, fits, or swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat — contact your nearest emergency room or call 911.

If it seems less threatening, a pharmacist would need to speak to you directly to offer the best course of action and to update your patient profile if necessary to avoid future reactions. Call the number printed on your prescription bottle.

What should I do if my medication looks different from last time and there is no note telling me that it has changed?
If there was no note with your prescription bottle, check the bottle for a sticker that indicates it is a different brand of the same medicine. If there is no such sticker, call the number printed on your prescription bottle.

What should I do if I miss a dose of my medication?
Take the missed dose as soon as possible. If it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed one and return to your regular schedule. Do not take a double dose or extra doses.

How do I know when my medication is expired?
Any prescription filled by Kaiser Permanente will have the expiration date (month and year) marked clearly on the label in the upper right-hand corner. This is the date given to us by the manufacturer at the time of the production of the medication or one year from the date the pharmacy filled it, whichever is sooner. It is good through the end of the month noted on the label.

How should I store my medications?
Most prescriptions should be stored at room temperature in a cool, dry place away from moisture and preferably out of direct sunlight, heat, or both. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom is not the best place for medications. Moisture and temperature may affect the stability of the medication, which means that it may not last as long as it would if stored properly. Some prescriptions should be refrigerated. Ask your pharmacist how best to store your medications.

Safe Disposal of Medications

Is there an environmentally-friendly way to get rid of unwanted medications?
You can discard unwanted and expired medications at 12 Kaiser Permanente-owned pharmacies in the Seattle area. The medications will be incinerated so they don't end up in waterways and landfills. See Medication Disposal Program to find Seattle-area locations and where to take unwanted medications in other areas.

Measuring Liquid Medications

Are cc and ml the same amount?
Yes, cubic centimeter (cc) and milliliter (ml) are equivalent measurements. For example, 5 cc equals 5 ml.

What is the metric measurement of a teaspoonful? A tablespoonful?One teaspoonful is equal to 5 ml, and 1 tablespoonful is equal to 15 ml. Remember not to use your own household silverware to measure these quantities. The volumes of household spoons vary widely.


Why do I have to take all of my antibiotics if I feel better after a few days?
Antibiotics continue getting rid of bacteria that cause infection even after you start feeling better. If you stop taking them too soon (before your pills are gone) the bacteria that are still in your system can change so that they are not vulnerable to the medication anymore. Sometimes these bacteria can multiply and cause your original infection to return. This relapse may have to be treated with a different, more potent antibiotic, since the bacteria may have become resistant to the one you were taking at first.

Why don't I need antibiotics when I have a cold?
Viruses cause colds and antibiotics are generally not effective against viruses. The best medicine for colds is still rest, plenty of fluids, and, if you need symptom relief, over-the-counter cold products. If you do not feel better within 10 days, please notify your physician's office.

Kaiser Permanente's Drug Formulary

What are formularies and why do they exist?
A formulary is a list of medications that are covered as a pharmacy benefit. Drugs are evaluated for efficacy, safety, toxicity, and cost. The medications in the formulary are constantly being reviewed and revised. See About the Drug Formulary.

Why can't I get a drug I see in a magazine or on TV?
Most Kaiser Permanente plans cover prescription drugs that are on a list called a drug formulary. The list includes generic and some brand-name drugs. These are the drugs we feel are the safest and most effective medications for a particular problem. Doctors on our Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee decide what drugs will be covered. They review each drug's efficacy, safety, toxicity, and cost.

Kaiser Permanente wants to make sure a drug is safe and does just what it's supposed to do without causing any serious complications. Fen-Phen (for obesity) and Rezulin (for diabetes) are just two examples of drugs we did not approve for our formulary. Looking back, these were very smart decisions. Both drugs were later withdrawn from the market because they were found to cause serious health problems.

Generic Drugs

What are generic drugs?
When a company identifies a drug in the laboratory, that company is granted a patent on the drug for a period of 20 years. During the life of the patent, no other manufacturer is allowed to produce or sell the same drug product without the patent-holder's approval, thus eliminating direct price competition. Patent protection allows the original drug company to recoup the money it spent research and marketing, and to make a profit.

After the patent expires, other pharmaceutical manufacturers may develop, test, and market the same drug. These identical products contain exact quantities of the same active ingredient in the same dosage form as the innovator's product. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington has significantly reduced total drug expenditures without compromising quality by using these "generic" drugs. This strategy has resulted in savings to you in the form of lower rates and prescription prices.

Copay Questions

Why do I have to pay full price for over-the-counter drugs?
Over-the-counter drugs are not covered under your drug benefit and therefore not eligible for a copay.

I was given a six-week supply of medicine. Why am I charged two copays for one prescription?
One copay covers a 30-day supply. A second copay is charged for anything more than a 30-day supply. A six-week supply is 42 days, hence an additional copay.

I've had a prescription that only includes six pills, but I'm still charged a copay as if it were a full 30-day supply. Why?
You are charged a copay whether your prescription calls for six pills or 60 pills. A single copay is for one month's supply or less. If you only have to take three days worth of pills, you're still responsible for a full copay unless the prescription charge is less than the copayment. You then pay the prescription charge. Some pills are very expensive, often $1 or more per pill. Your copay can still be a bargain compared to the actual cost of the pills.

Why am I charged another copay if my doctor changes my prescription?
Let's say, for example, you have an infection and your doctor gives you a prescription. Your doctor also had you take a lab test to make sure you received the most appropriate antibiotic for your particular infection. The lab results alert your doctor to a better drug for your particular problem and your prescription is changed. Now you have a new prescription so you need to pay another copay for the new medicine. The same thing can happen if you have an allergic reaction to a drug and it needs to be changed. Another prescription requires another copay