How to get the most out of your medicines

Heidi Wrightby Heidi Wright, RPS Practice and Policy Lead for England.

Getting the best out of your medicines is important.  Medicines stop us getting ill, help us stay healthy, control our illnesses or cure them.  But using them isn’t always easy.   Between 30-50% of people don’t take their medicines as recommended, so if you are experiencing problems, you’re not alone.

A recent survey we did showed only 49% of people are usually aware of the side-effects of a medicine before taking it , yet knowing about potential problems can give you the confidence to cope when they occur.  Just 42% of people said they always read the patient information leaflet included in the pack and under half said they would check how a medicine might react with their other prescriptions.

Not understanding our medicines means we experience more ill-health, a poorer quality of life and sadly often end up in hospital. About 6.5% of hospital admissions are due to problems caused by medicines, but 70%  of all these admissions could be avoided if medicines were used the right way.

When we understand about our medicines and how to use them we stay well, stay in the workplace and stay out of hospital.  It also means medicines are used as they should be and don’t get binned.
Wasted medicines also cost the NHS £300million  year, about half of which could be saved if medicines were used properly.

So how can we change this situation?

Understanding your medicine starts with knowing the right questions to ask.  Working with groups who represent patients, we’ve produced a list of questions  that should help you get the information you need when your medicines are being prescribed. It’s easy to forget everything you’re told, so try taking along a notebook and write down the answers that are important to you.

Your pharmacist  is an expert in medicines who can give you advice especially tailored to you and your lifestyle.  You don’t need an appointment and you can talk in a private consultation area where you won’t be overheard.  In England there are also two types of NHS check-up services that can help – the New Medicine Service for when you first start taking a medicine, or a Medicines Use Review  for when you’ve been taking your medicines for a while.

Don’t give up on your medicines if you’re having problems.  Your health will suffer and the medicines will be wasted.  Try visiting your local pharmacist instead.  Often all it takes is a 10 minute chat with a health professional to put things right, and you’ll feel much better for it.