Health News

Safe use of medicines

Patients visiting a pharmacy for their prescription or over-the-counter medicines may find at times that the pharmacist or pharmacy staff ask them some questions about the medicine and/or the condition they are taking it for.

This is not being nosy. It’s to help ensure that you get the best possible results from the medicine you are purchasing, and that it is the right medicine for you.

One of your pharmacist’s responsibilities – in addition to getting your medicine for you – is to watch for, fix and prevent any medication-related problems. This is an area of growing concern in Australia.

Over 1.2 million Australians experienced an adverse medication event in a six month period, and almost one in four older people prescribed medicines are prescribed an excessive dose. So, there is a big responsibility on your pharmacy team to get it right for you.

Many medicines can be used for more than one medical condition, so your pharmacist needs to understand why you are taking a medication to ensure your medications are suitable for you, will work safely together, and that you will get the most benefit from them.

From time-to-time pharmacists need to contact your doctor to confirm the reason the medication has been prescribed. Occasionally they may suggest to the doctor a different medication or a different dosage that in their expert opinion might work better for you.

An increasing number of people are prescribed more than one medicine. Taking multiple medicines increases the risks of harm from medication. Sometimes two medicines don’t work well together, sometimes when a new person is ordered a new medicine the dose of an existing medicine needs adjusting, and sometimes a new medicine is added to treat the side-effects of an existing medicine. All if this can result in unnecessary harm.

As a medicine expert, your pharmacist is alert for such potential problems and the questions they ask help to ensure they medicines you are ordered or ask for are safe for you and will work as intended. With pharmacists monitoring your use of prescription and non-prescription medicines, most doctors appreciate it when they get feedback from the patient’s pharmacists.

Hopefully this helps you understand why you may be asked questions about your medicine use, and the sort of questions you may be asked.

Fundamentally, the pharmacists and pharmacy staff want to ask, assess and advise.

The ‘ask’ phase may include questions such as:

  • Who is the product for? (Pharmacists particularly check whether the person is a child, is over 65 years of age, or is pregnant or breastfeeding)
  • What symptoms do you have?
  • How long have the symptoms lasted?
  • Have you tried other medicines or treatments?
  • Do you have any other health conditions?
  • Do you take any other medicines?

Your pharmacy team may use the answers you provide to assess the suitability of a particular product for your needs. And when they recommend a medicine for you they will advise:

  • How to use the product correctly.
  • What to do if the symptoms don’t improve.
  • Common side effects that may be experienced.
  • What other options may help, including other products and/or lifestyle advice.

It is also important that you feel welcome to ask your pharmacist questions about your medicines. Feeling confident in the medicine you are taking and how you are taking it is an important part of the safe use of medicines.

Some questions you might wish to ask to ensure you are confident about your medicines include:

  • What is this medication used for?
  • How should I take this medication?
  • Which side effects are considered normal, and which are not?
  • What kinds of things interact with this medication?
  • Is there anything I should do or not do when taking this medicine?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Any other advice about taking this medicine?

Don’t be hesitant to ask any questions you may have. Pharmacists and pharmacy staff appreciate the opportunity to advise and are there for the same reason you are – to improve your health and wellbeing.


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