Ensuring the best use of medicines, reducing the risks of side effects and making sure people are taking medicines properly and safely are core activities of all pharmacy services. A report in May 2013, also by the RPS, revealed that 'only 16 percent of patients who are prescribed a new medicine take it as prescribed, experience no problems and receive as much information as they need.'
But we can't put all the responsibility onto pharmacists. It's also up to us as patients to make sure we are taking prescribed medicines correctly (where possible). And while the reports focus on prescription medicines, this also apply to anything we buy over the pharmacy counter.
So how can you make sure you are using your medicines properly?
1. Speak out
The National Pharmacy Association's Ask your Pharmacist campaign stresses that you should always let your pharmacist know if you are:
- allergic to anything
- taking prescribed medicines from another pharmacist or hospital pharmacy
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or vitamin, mineral or herbal supplements
- pregnant or breastfeeding
- buying or collecting the medicines for someone else.
2. Always ask questions
Sometimes the instructions on the medicine label or in the supplied leaflet aren't clear (or in layperson's terms). So when picking up a prescription medicine or buying any OTC product for the first time, always ask:
- What is this medicine for? [Make sure you know which medicines are helping which symptoms or medical conditions,]
- How long does it take to work and will I notice the effects? [You may not notice blood pressure medicines doing anything, yet they will still be working in the background.]
- Why do I need to take or use it? [It's important to understand why you need to take a medicine and what will happen if you don't.]
- When should I take or use it? [How many times a day, morning or night etc.]
- How do I take or use it? [Make sure you know, for example, how to put eye drops in.]
- How long should I take it for? [Do you need to finish a specific course or do you need to keep getting new prescriptions each month?]
- What do I do if I forget a dose? [Do I take the next one, take it as soon as I remember etc?]
- Does it have any side effects? [What are the side effects? What do you do if you think you are experiencing any?]
- Are there any possible risks I should be aware of? [Some medicines can affect your liver, for example, so your doctor may advise that you have regular liver function tests.]
- Could it interact with any other medicines I am taking? [This includes over-the-counter medicines and vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements.]
- Will it still work if I have a stomach upset? [If you use oral contraceptives, for example, you will need to use condoms if you have a stomach bug as the contraceptive won't be as effective.]
- Can I take it with/without food or drink? [Some medicines, for example, interact with grapefruit juice.]
- Do I need to store it any particular way? [e.g. in the fridge].
3. Find ways to remind yourself
If you don't always remember to take your medicines, what can you do to jog your memory?
- Get into a routine and stick with it.
- Fill up a dossette box with medicines for a week. So you will be able to tell if you forget a dose.
- Link taking medicines with specific activities (e.g. the evening news, the morning paper TV programmes).
- Set multiple alarms or reminders on your mobile phone.
- Keep a diary or planner and tick off a dose once you have taken it.
- Ask your friends or family to remind you.
3. Access pharmacy services
If you are prescribed a new medicine for the first time for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, type-2 diabetes or high blood pressure, ask your pharmacist about The New Medicines Services (NMS), which is free across England. If you are eligible, the pharmacist will answer many of the questions above to help you get the most out of your medicines and stay well.
If you are taking two or more prescribed medicines for a chronic conditions, you can have a free NHS Medicines Use Review (MUR). This service is available throughout England and Wales ('Managing your Medicines' is offered in Ireland and a 'Chronic Medication Service' is available in Scotland). During this personal consultation, your pharmacist can discuss the medicines you are prescribed, whether you are experiencing any problems or side effects and whether there could be a more effective way of taking them.