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With medical breakthroughs and better nutrition, the life expectancy of Australians has increased by at least 30 years over the past century. And its expected to rise to 95 years by 2055. As people seek ways to improve their health, it is important to understand the prescribed medications and supplements to avoid complications. You can start by asking your pharmacist questions.

Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Monday, March 26, 2018 - 14:09
File size
2.61 MB
5 min 42 sec

One of the important questions to ask your pharmacist when you’re prescribed with a new medicine is “what is this medicine for?”.

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s national president Dr Shane Jackson explains. 

“Some people, as they get older, can take a large number of different medicines. Sometimes the brand can be confusing at times. There might be changes in brand because there are shortages and things like that. So, simple questions like: ‘what this medicine is for?’ is a really important thing to have.” 

Brisbane-based pharmacist Elsa Wang agrees.

She strongly recommends checking your script with the pharmacist to ensure you’re prescribed with the right medication. 

“For example, I’ve got a customer, doctor accidentally prescribed an inhaler but it was a nasal spray that the doctor intended to prescribe. So, it’s always good to double check with the pharmacist on what your medication is used for.”

Always check your script with your pharmacist to ensure you’re prescribed with the right medication. 

This is particularly relevant to patients who have been seeing different doctors or visiting various pharmacies. 

“The most common one is that they go to different pharmacies, and different pharmacies use the different pharmacy brands. When they bring back home, they just see the packaging, even though it's the same generic name, but then as people from the non-English speaking background, they might not realise that, so they might just be taking the two medications thinking that they might need two.” 

It also pays to ask your pharmacist if there has been a change with your medication. If unsure, the pharmacist can always double-check with your doctor.

“Sometimes the doctor change the dose of medication, they might increase or decrease the dose, and then if they are not aware of that, sometimes they may either under dose themselves or overdosing themselves”

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s national president Dr Shane Jackson encourages people to proactively ask their doctor or pharmacist questions - that could also include understanding what to expect from taking a certain medicine. 

“So, you know, if it’s an antibiotic from an infection, when should I start to improve? If a medicine is used for blood pressure, then you should expect better blood pressure control, but some people, for example, if they’ve got high blood pressure, might be having headaches, so you’d expect those sorts of things to go away. So, people need to know what to expect from a beneficial point of view with their medicines.”

Dr Jackson says that whilst medicines in Australia go through a robust testing process, and are generally safe to use, you should still ask your pharmacist about the possible side effects. 
 “Some antibiotics might upset your stomach a little bit, you know, there’s some medicines that can cause headaches and other things. So, it’s just really important to ask what should I expect from this medicine from a beneficial point of view but also from a side effect point of view. What should I do if I get those problems? Should I call my doctor or should I call you as a pharmacist?”

Whenever you start a new medicine, make sure to ask about the side effects.

“Sometimes they can. These are the sorts of problems that you need to look out for and these are the sorts of things to do if there is a problem occurring. If somebody’s selecting a supplement off the shelf in a pharmacy, make sure that medicine can be taken safely with other medicines because complementary medicines or supplements do have some effect, and some can interact with other medicines. Common medicines like fish oils, for example, they can interact with medicines that we might term as ‘blood-thinners’.”

You might also ask your pharmacist whether there are particular measures to minimise the side effects.   

“Usually, we recommended that them to take the medications with food to minimise the stomach upset. It is also important to ask the pharmacist regarding how long should they have the medication? How long the treatment duration should be for?” 

You should also know what to do if you happen to miss a dose.  

“It all depends on the type of medicines, and so, if somebody misses a medicine, most of the time, if you’re only missing a dose by about one or two hours, you can just take that dose when you remember, but some medicines need to be taken really quite diligently at the specified time. So, if somebody’s unsure, they need to call their pharmacist, and say, ‘okay, I’ve forgotten to take this, and it might have been the previous day, and it’s not ideal, but most of the time, you just start with the next day’s tablet.”

Pharmacist Elsa Wang notices that many of her overseas-born customers tend to shy away from ringing the pharmacy for clarification.  

“I do find that people who have an English background, they tend to phone pharmacy a lot regarding the problems they’ve encountered to make sure they’ve got continuity of healthcare when they could not access their GP. Where I do find people from non-English speaking background, they don’t do that as often. I think it might be because with the language barrier, it might keep them away from asking the pharmacist question, but I do encourage them to ask questions, because it might help them to avoid potential side effects or potential drug misuse.”