Taking care as you take your medicine

Tips on finding out as much as you can about the medication you are taking

If your doctor prescribes a medication for you, it's a good idea to try to find out as much about it as you can, including how to take it properly.

At the doctor's

When you’re preparing to see your doctor, it may be helpful to take a list of any medicine you’re currently taking – including dietary supplements or herbal/natural remedies.

To ensure you’re taking as much care as possible when taking your medicine you might have some questions to ask during your appointment. We’ve pulled together a list of some key points you might want to consider asking:

  • Does my medicine have any other names and what are they? 
  • Why am I taking it? 
  • How much should I take and how often? 
  • Is there a best time to take it? 
  • How long will I need to take it? 
  • Are there potential side effects, and what should I do if they happen? 
  • What should I do if I miss a dose? 
  • Does this medication interact with my other medications I’m taking, or with any foods or drinks? 
  • Does this medication replace anything else I have been taking? 
  • Where and how should I store it? 
  • How soon should I start to feel better? 
  • When should I report back to my healthcare professional? 
  • Should I avoid any liquids, foods, other substances or activities while using this medicine? 
  • Could I become tolerant, dependent or addicted to this medicine? If so, how can I avoid this? 
  • Where can I get more information about this medicine? 
  • If the directions state I should take the medication every three or four hours, does that mean throughout the night as well as during the day? 
  • Is this medication available in a child-resistant container? 
  • What is this medication's expiration date?

At the pharmacy

When you go to the pharmacy to pick up your medication it’s worth double checking that this is the medicine that your doctor prescribed for you. 

The pharmacist should also advise you on how and when to take it, and give you a patient information leaflet (PIL) about your medicine – or there will be one in the box.

Your pharmacist will try to address any concerns you have and help you understand the information you have been given about the medicine. They’ll advise you to go back to your doctor, if necessary.

When you buy medication over the counter without a prescription from your doctor, it’s always best to read the labels carefully – the medicine may contain ingredients which you do not want or should not take. You’ll also need to check whether this medication interacts with any prescription medicine you might be taking or with any foods.

The pharmacist will be able to advise you in selecting the right product for you.

At the hospital

When you have a hospital appointment, you may need to take any medicine you are already prescribed with you to the hospital.

Many of the same questions we talked about in the ‘At the doctor’s’ section apply at the hospital too. It’s always best to ask if you’re unsure – nothing is trivial if it’s bothering you. 

There are also a few extra things to bear in mind when you’re at the hospital. It sounds obvious to say but it’s crucial you don’t let anyone give you medication without them first checking your hospital identification bracelet. This will help ensure you don’t get someone else's medication. 

If you’re having a test or a procedure, it’s a good idea to ask if it will require any dyes or medicines in case you’re allergic to anything they’re intending to use.

When it’s time for you to leave hospital, some people find it helpful to ask the doctor, nurse or pharmacist to talk you and/or a family member through each medication.

At home

Once you’re at home and getting underway with taking your medicine it’s still really important to follow the instructions you’ve been given.

We all lead busy lives but if medicines aren’t taken correctly there’s the risk they might not work properly. So, with that in mind, here are some tips to help make sure your medicine will work as well as it can do:

  • If you keep your medicine in its original, labelled packaging, it means you can identify each one and follow the correct directions for that particular medicine. 
  • Don’t store medicines where they might get hot, cold (unless specifically told to keep them refrigerated) or damp, as this may affect their ability to work as intended. Direct sunlight can also have an impact.
  • It’s crucial to keep medications where children cannot see or reach them. It’s also important to keep medications for people separate from pet medications or household chemicals.  
  • If you read the patient information leaflet (or PIL), it will give instructions about how to take the medication. For example, whether it should be swallowed with water, taken immediately before food etc.  
  • Be cautious when measuring out liquid medication – always use the measuring device supplied as alternatives devices, such as household teaspoons, are not accurate.
  • Make a note of doctor and pharmacist phone numbers where you can easily access them and familiarise yourself with the locations of pharmacies that are open 24 hours in case of an emergency.
  • It might sound like common sense, but do make sure you exercise caution. For example, don’t take medicine in the dark even if you think you know which bottle is on your bedside table.
  • Finally, don’t ever take another person's prescription medication or let anyone else take yours, even if it appears that they have the same medical condition as you.

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Date of preparation: August 2021
Reference: COB-GB-NP-00053