Managing medications is important and although that may sound obvious, medication non-adherence, or simply put, not taking medication as the prescriber (the person who wrote the prescription, for example your GP) intended, costs the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year.
There is no one reason why people don’t take their medication as prescribed, which therefore means, there is no one solution. Reasons that people stop taking their medication as prescribed include being concerned about side effects, believing they didn’t need the drug, because they were feeling better, or because they felt like the drug wasn't working.
It’s important to speak to your pharmacist before you stop taking prescribed medication as they can help you manage side effects and discuss your concerns. It can be dangerous to abruptly stop some medicines so always seek advice beforehand.
In this blog, we’ll look at many aspects of medication management, beyond just dosage and timing. When it comes to medication management, the “five rights” are sometimes used to assess medication adherence – the right drug, to the right patient, in the right dose, by the right route, at the right time.
Medication management is how you manage your medication, ensuring that you take the right medication prescribed for you, at the right dose, at the right time, by the right route.
You should only take medication that has been prescribed for you, even if you have the same symptoms as someone else that has a prescription. Never share prescribed medication as a medication that may be suitable and safe for another person may not be suitable for you.
Always read the details on the medication packaging and the instructions on the label before you take medication. It can be easy to pick up the wrong box in error, especially if boxes are similar sizes or colours, and unintentionally take the wrong medication. Read the label carefully to ensure you have the correct medication before taking.
The dose is how often you take your medication, for example whether you should take it once or twice each day, when required or even just once a week. The medication label applied to your dispensed medication will tell you how the prescriber wishes you to take the medication.
The time of day you take your medication can be important for some medication so read the label and the patient information leaflet to understand if you should take it at a specific time of day such as in the morning or at night, or if it doesn’t matter as long as you take it around the same time each day.
The route of administration is how the medication enters the body to have the desired effect, for example, most tablets should be swallowed whole, but some should be allowed to slowly dissolve under the tongue, and some tablets should be chewed. The patient information leaflet will provide you with information so always read the leaflet.
It’s important you understand why you’re taking the prescribed medication, how it needs to be taken as well as what side effects to look out for. On a day-to-day basis, good medication management is different for everyone, and largely depends on what works for you and your lifestyle.
It’s important to talk to your pharmacist about how to take your medication, as they’re able to provide guidance and help you understand your medicines. It’s important you’re honest about your situation with both your GP and your pharmacist. For example, if you can’t swallow tablets, ask about tablet splitters/ crushers or liquid forms of the medication. Or, if you struggle to use eye drops correctly, ask about compliance aids for eye drops.
As well as speaking to your pharmacist and reading the patient information leaflet, if you want to find out more about your medicines the NHS website has lots of useful information.
There are some medical conditions and situations where taking a certain drug, or undertaking a particular type of treatment or procedure, could cause greater harm than good to an individual.
Therefore, it’s important to be transparent and upfront about your current situation with your pharmacist, for example if you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding.
Food and drink can sometimes interact with medication that you buy over-the-counter as well as prescription medication.
Grapefruit, whether it’s the fruit or juice, alcohol and dairy products such as milk are all things that interact with some medication and alter their effectiveness. Some medications are better with food, and you may feel nauseous (sick) if taken without food, whilst some must be taken on an empty stomach, at least an hour before eating.
Ask your pharmacist and read the patient information leaflet to ensure you take your medication correctly.
Drug-drug interactions occur when two or more different drugs interact with each other. Sometimes these interactions are well understood and are minor so the medications are intentionally prescribed, knowing that the medications interact. However, sometimes there are more serious interactions that are important to avoid, and therefore the medications shouldn’t be taken by a patient at the same time. When clinically checking your prescription your pharmacist will review your medication profile to look for significant interactions and discuss these with the prescriber if appropriate.
Once you’ve understood how and when to take your medication, the next step is to take them as prescribed.
Whether you’re struggling to open child-resistant bottle tops, use your eye drops so the drops go into your eye instead of running down your cheek, squeeze cream from a tube, read the instructions on the medication label, or remember when to take your medication, speak to your pharmacist. There are lots of products available to help you use your medication, so do ask for help if you need it.
What a good medication management plan looks like for you may look different to other people. The tactics you use to adhere to your medication schedule are completely up to you.
When you’re busy it can be very easy to forget to take medicine at the right time. Many people who are on multiple medications use visual cues as a reminder. An example is to leave your morning tablets in the cupboard next to your breakfast cereal so you remember to take them with breakfast. Medicines can be affected by heat, light and moisture so store your medication somewhere cool and dry, away from direct sunlight.
Some people may forget if they’ve taken their medication or not. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t take another dose - speak to your pharmacist or GP first to get advice as it may be safer to potentially miss a dose rather than take a double dose.
Multicompartmental compliance aids (MCAs), such as Dossett boxes, NOMAD and Venalink, have compartments for each time of day for a 7 day period. Whilst not suitable for all medicines, speak to your pharmacist if you think a compliance aid may help.
Taking medication as the prescriber intended is important for controlling both chronic and temporary conditions, as well as being important for improving long-term health.
The consequences of medication non-adherence depend on the drug as well as the condition being treated, but short-term consequences could include missing the best time window, which may lead to more side effects. Non-adherence could lead to your condition taking longer to be treated, or it not being properly managed.
So, always remember the reason why you’re taking your medication and stick to the schedule as you’ve been advised.
It’s quite common to experience side effects when taking over-the-counter and prescription medication. Side effects can range from a runny nose to dizziness, and can also include stomach problems, such as nausea, diarrhoea or constipation.
After starting medication, speak to your GP or pharmacist if you are experiencing side effects. The advice you’ll receive will vary depending on your situation, the drug as well as the severity of your side effects.
Your GP may recommend that you continue taking the medication as the side effects may ease, or you may be asked to try taking the medicine at a different time, lowering your dose or having your medication changed.
It’s important to note that if you are experiencing side effects that you don’t just stop taking your medicine without advice, instead you should speak to your pharmacist or GP.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has a Yellow Card scheme, which is designed to collect and monitor information on the safety (including side effects) of medications and medical devices. You can learn more about how to report your side effects with the Yellow Card Scheme here.
It’s important to plan when you’ll need to ask your GP for a new repeat prescription and get it dispensed. Some medicines aren’t routinely kept in stock in every pharmacy so make sure you allow time for your pharmacy to order it in for you so you don’t run out.
All medication has an expiry date and some also have an expiry once opened. For example, while some unopened eye drops may expire a year or two after the manufacturing date, once opened they may need to be discarded a month after opening. Always read the label and the patient information leaflet.
Once you understand your medication schedule, you could use a calendar or a medication tracking app such as MedAdvisor to help you remember.
There can be a lot to remember, especially if you're taking multiple medications. Fortunately, there are several digital solutions that can help, such as the MedAdvisor app.
The MedAdvisor app can be hugely beneficial to those ordering multiple repeat prescription items and making frequent trips to the pharmacy. However, even those on just one medication have said that the app is a great help as it ensures that no medication is missed.
Features of the MedAdvisor app include medication supply tracking, so you know when you’re running low and you need to place an order, the ability to order your repeat prescription 24/7 and also, being notified when medication is ready to collect, so that you know exactly when to make your next trip to the pharmacy.
By using the MedAdvisor app, the repeat NHS prescription ordering process is simplified.
Just download the app and register, choose your preferred pharmacy, select and order the repeat prescription medication you need and then you’ll be notified by your pharmacy once your GP has issued a prescription and it’s ready for collection – it’s that easy.
Remembering to order prescriptions on time and take medication in the correct way can be difficult for some people. Whether you’re managing one medication or five, it can very easily become overwhelming so ask your pharmacist for help if you feel you need it. Whether you're struggling to remember when to take medication, or are finding it hard to use, for example pushing tablets out of a foil strip, reading labels as the print is too small, or you can’t open bottles, do speak to your pharmacist to see what options may be available.
The MedAdvisor app is available on both the Google Play and App store, or can also be accessed on any internet connected device via a web browser. Download the app and simplify your medication management routine today.
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