Tips for safer medication use

By Jamil Ramji, Primary Care Pharmacist

Remembering when and how to take your medications properly can be a challenging task. It is not uncommon for us to wonder:

  • What did my physician tell me about this prescription?
  • How did the pharmacist tell me to take these pills?
  • Am I allowed to take food with this medication?
  • Why does the label on the medication vial tell me to avoid the sunlight?

Take your medications as prescribed.

Unfortunately many people do not take their medications correctly. More than 50% of people do not take their medication as prescribed, and 30% of people stop taking a medication before they are supposed to. Not taking medications properly leads to unnecessary hospital admissions, illness and even death, putting strain on our healthcare system. When you follow your prescription you:

  • Get the full benefits of your medication: If you only take half of the medication that was prescribed, you will not get the full benefits of the dose that your doctor recommended.
  • Avoid unwanted side effects: If you take more medication than recommended, you are at an increased risk of experiencing side effects.
  • Avoid medication conflicts: Some medications should not be taken together. If they are, the effect of one or both of the medications can be increased or decreased, leading to potential problems.

Speak to your physician and pharmacist to learn more about how to take your medication and what to do if you are having trouble using it as prescribed.

The conversation with your doctor and pharmacist is a two-way street; both parties should be listening, asking questions and offering information. You should have a conversation with your physician and pharmacist about your medical history, the medication and any questions or concerns you have. In turn, you should provide any necessary health information to your doctor and pharmacist. To get the most out of your visit, make sure you ask the following questions:

  • What is the medication supposed to do? Some medications, such as antibiotics, are used to cure an illness. Others, such as pain medications, are used to control symptoms. It's important to know what to expect from your medication so that you have a realistic idea of what it can do for you.
  • How should I use the medication? What is the best time of day is best to use the medication?  Some medications must be used at exactly the same times every day to be effective. Others can be taken at approximately the same time each day.
  • How will I know if the medication is working and when should I expect it to start working? What do I do if it doesn't seem to be working? It is important that you know when your medication will start working and what you can expect it to do so you can monitor it and take action if it is not doing what it should.
  • How long will I need to use the medication? Some medications are used for a short period of time and others for a lifetime. Knowing how long you will need to stay on a medication can help you prepare yourself for a lifestyle change, if necessary. For some medications, such as antibiotics, the whole course of treatment must be completed, even if you feel better after a couple of days.
  • Are there any activities, foods or other medications that I should avoid while taking this medication? Medication can affect many aspects of your life, such as driving, drinking, eating, operating machinery and exercise. It is important to know what you should or shouldn’t do while on your medication.
  • What are the side effects of this medication? How can I reduce or cope with the side effects? Which side effects need medical attention? Some side effects are very serious and require immediate medical attention, while others are milder. It is very important to understand potentially serious side effects and have an emergency contact number.
  • Can I stop taking my medication because of the side effects? Before you decide to stop taking a medication, ask your physician and pharmacist whether there is a way to deal with the side effects. If you have decided not to take one of your medications as prescribed, let your doctor and pharmacist know. If your pharmacist thinks that you are taking a medication when you are not then they may think that the medication is not working and recommend to your doctor that a higher dose or a different medication should be used. Don't feel guilty about telling your pharmacist that you haven't been taking your medications as prescribed—it is their job to help you and not to judge you.
  • Choose your pharmacist as carefully as you choose your doctor. Find a pharmacist that you are comfortable talking with and who takes the time to help you with your medications.

Please note that health information on this website is for educational purposes and is not intended to replace advice from your physician or other healthcare professionals.

The Primary Care Networks Program Management Office
Alberta Government
Alberta Medical Association
Alberta Health Services