The do’s and don’ts of medication

Posted on 25 October 2016

Taking special care with medications is vital to maintaining their quality and ensuring that the patient gets the full benefit of the treatment. Lize von Schlicht, a pharmacist at Mediclinic Panorama, gives guidance for the safe and responsible usage and storage of medication.

‘Medicine will only be most effective when used at the correct dose, at the right interval and at the correct time,’ says Lize. ‘If a patient does not understand how and when to use their medication, it will definitely have an impact on the efficacy and success of the treatment.’

Storage of medicine is just as important – if not stored under the specified conditions, the stability, effectiveness, quality and safety of the medication may be compromised, which could negatively affect the patient’s health.

Read the fine print

When starting a course of medicine, it is necessary to distinguish between the package insert and the patient information leaflet.

  • The package insert is more scientific and serves as a guide for medical professionals with regards to the indications, mechanisms of action, drug interactions, contra-indications, directions and dosages of medication.
  • The patient information leaflet is a more user-friendly version of the package insert aimed specifically at patients to enable them to understand more about the medication they are using, what to do if a dose is missed, and what adverse effects to look out for.

The do’s and don’ts 

Lize says patients often have misconceptions about how and when to take their medication, which in effect could compromise treatment.

  • DO remember to take your medication. People tend to be forgetful about using medicine, especially if they are not used to it. Lize advises choosing a time of day that is convenient to ensure regular use, unless specifically indicated for a particular time by the prescriber.
  • DON’T take expired medication. Expiry dates are set for a reason as the manufacturers can only guarantee the safety, stability and efficacy of medicines until the expiry date.
  • DO follow dosage instructions. Patients often think that when they start to feel better after being prescribed a course of antibiotics, they can stop taking them altogether. If a patient does not complete the course of antibiotics it can lead to antibiotic resistance, under-dosing or the need for a repeat course of treatment.
  • DON’T share medication. If a patient is prescribed a certain medication and dosage, the treatment is specific to that patient – what is beneficial to one might be detrimental to another.
  • DO get your doctor/pharmacist’s guidance when buying over-the-counter medication. ‘Patients often practice polypharmacy – they buy more than one over-the-counter product for the same condition, without realising that the different products may contain the same active ingredients,’ Lize explains. She warns that this can lead to overdosing and adverse effects.
  • DON’T flush unused or expired medicines down the toilet/drain or discard as part of normal household waste. ‘Patients should take their medicines to their closest pharmacy for correct disposal,’ advises Lize. In the pharmacy, the items are sorted and placed in the designated bin and a professional disposal company will collect and dispose of or incinerate the medicines.

Safe storage

Storage of medication is important to help maintain its stability, safety and effectiveness, and to prevent misuse or accidental ingestion.

Lize shares these basic tips to follow:

  • Keep all forms of medication in a safe place out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cupboard.
  • Store medicines out of direct sunlight.
  • Medication should be kept in a cool, dry area where humidity and moisture are at a minimum, therefore the bathroom is not an advisable storage place.
  • Tablets, unless otherwise specified, should be stored below 25°C.
  • Certain medications such as insulin, reconstituted antibiotics, various tablets and also some suppositories have to be kept in the fridge at a temperature between 2 and 8°C.

Ask your pharmacist

Pharmacists’ duties and responsibilities go further than just dispensing medication, says Lize. They are also there to provide clear counselling for patients with regards to why their medication is prescribed, how it works and its correct usage.

Whenever a patient feels unsure or unclear about any of the information provided to them, it is their right to ask the pharmacist to clarify any misunderstandings.

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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