Friday, July 29, 2011

"Excuse me....Where is the information for my prescription medicine?"

Have you ever been surprised, or even frustrated with the lack of written information that comes with something as important as your prescription medications such as Antidepressants?

Perhaps when you are prescribed something for the first time? Or perhaps it's a medicine you've been taking for a while but you needed to check if it's ok to have a few drinks at the party tonight? Or maybe you've just had one of those days and you need something to alleviate that headache?

Why is it that your basic over-the-counter mouth ulcer gel is hidden in a roll of detailed information, but your important 'Prescription Only' medication comes with next to nothing??

Gone are the days where the pharmacist would hide behind a wall and make up a special 'secret concoction' ordered by the doctor, which the pharmacy assistant would then hand to you labelled 'The Mixture' or 'The Tablets'. We now live in the in age of information and we now not only demand information, we are also entitled to it, and medicines are certainly no exception.

So, how much information should be provided? Is more always better? Should you jump on the computer and start 'googling' away and take advantage of all the information available on the Internet?

My response would be, information is power. BUT, only if the information is accurate, reliable and correctly interpreted and appropriately personalised to the circumstances at hand. The problem is where the source of information is coming from and whether the person receiving the information fully understands the context in which it's conveyed.

The Internet has a seemingly limitless amount of information of just about everything. And as it's unregulated it's a huge task to separate accurately published information from an abundance of mis-information. Specifically, truly accurate and legitimate drug,medical and health information can be particularly difficult to find. Many medical academics make a career of interpreting countless studies to ensure the studies, data and information are legitimate and accurate to current standards. Therefore, it would be fair to say that interpreting drug and medical information requires a certain level of training, skill and experience.

So, where can you find reliable information?

All Australian drug manufacturer's are required by law to have a CMI (Consumer Medicine Information which are dose and brand specific) available for their medicines, but not all will provide it with the packaging. A copy can be obtained at the pharmacy.

The other thing to note is that CMI's are designed to convey common and important information to the general public in a general and simplied manner, designed to be accompanied by personalised advice from your doctor or pharmacist.

Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to tell you, given your medication history and lifestyle, which side-effects you are most likely to experience and how you can alleviate it, which side-effects are serious requiring attention, and which aren't. They will also be able to tell you which side-effects are unlikely to affect you based on your history. They will even be able to give you some helpful tips and caution based on their professional experience, which can not be found on the CMI.

For those who crave information and think that 'more is better', think again....

Technical drug information is also far from personalised, and although it is in-depth, it requires careful interpretation by qualified healthcare professionals to determine which components are relevant, and is therefore unsuitable for distribution to the general public.
Any information without adequate interpretation by a qualified healthcare professional can result in anxiety, non-compliance and mis-management. Just Imagine reading through a long list of reported side-effect ranging from seemingly mild and funny, to seemingly serious and often foreign-sounding side-effects, which, in itself can sound scary. This alone would likely deter most of us from initiating or continuing medication therapy, unless this information is accurately interpreted to determine it's relevance with a great deal of professional perspective.


My Tips for Obtaining Reliable Drug or Medication Information:

1. Always raise concerns and questions with your Dr before leaving the consult. This is the time to decide if you wish to initiate drug therapy of any sort, or not. This is the point where your Dr will be able to give you your options, and be able to take you through the risk vs benefits of your options. It's vital that you make this decision together, and fully disclose your compliance with any treatment plans with your doctor upon subsequent visits so that your progress can be accurately monitored and reassessed to maintain optimal therapy, medication or otherwise.
2. When handing your script into the pharmacy, tell pharmacy staff when you commence a new drug medication or when your medication dosage changes. This should prompt them to ensure that the pharmacist gives you appropriate medication counselling & CMI & other written material. This also gives the pharmacist time to prepare both personalised verbal & written material for you upon collecting your script.
3. If this is not your first time taking your medications & you require information ask to speak to the pharmacist as well as requesting a CMI or other written material.
4. Always provide the doctor and pharmacist with your current & complete medication, medical & lifestyle history, as this is the only way they can truly personalise the information, determine which information is relevant for your situation & provide you with the best health outcome.
5. Always ask if there is something you do not fully understand or require more information about.
6. Feel free to do your own research but always validate and discuss your information with your doctor and / or pharmacist. Good communication, honesty and rapport with your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional is essential for an optimal therapeutic relationship.
7. Ask for more resources. Rather than trawling through the internet for hours on end searching for shreds of valuable factual information, your doctor or pharmacist can often provide you with additional resources such as books, other reading material, legitimate websites, hotlines, other healthcare providers etc This ensures you always deal with legitimate and accurate information providers.
8. Allow your doctor, pharmacist & healthcare professionals time to provide you with additional information as it may require more time and resources to give you more personalised or detailed information. This generally requires follow up consultation/s to your doctor, & follow up visits or phone calls to the pharmacy.


Your doctor, pharmacist and healthcare providers are your most legitimate and accurate sources of drug, medical & health information. By keeping clear, open & honest communication with them, you will become better informed and equipped to manage your medications and medical conditions in the best possible way.


UDinh Pharmacist
B.Pharmacy Australia