Health & Fitness

Growing need to promote safe and effective use of prescription medicines

Health staff should have an up-to-date list of all the medicines patients are taking. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

At one point in your life, you may have used medication. Did you stop to think whether that medicine was safe for you to use? Did you question the choice? Were you asked if you have an allergy? Were you told how to store the medication? These are some discussion points that you should have with your pharmacist before taking any medication.

This ensures medication safety — the freedom from preventable harm with its use.

It is important to involve patients in decisions about their medicines because this improves their appropriate use. Good communication and good practices when prescribing medicines can help patients to have a more active role in their treatment and reduce any shortcomings.

Health professionals including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pharmaceutical technologists and specialists may be involved in prescribing and managing patient’s medicines.

These professionals should have the relevant knowledge and skills to help patients with their medicines. Social workers may also be involved in the care of patients. Healthcare providers should talk to patients about getting the most from their medicines and explain any necessary support they can be offered to enable them to make informed decisions.


The patients’ family or caregiver can be involved in helping the sick make decisions as well, with the patients’ approval, especially where children and the elderly are involved.

They can discuss with their pharmacist about the different treatment options, how the medicines are likely to benefit them, and any anticipated side effects. Healthcare providers should use the best available evidence when discussing medicines with patients. They should also ask patients what is important to them about managing their condition and their medicines, and consider patient values and preferences when deciding on treatment.

Health workers may suggest using patient decision aid tools to help patients. This tool can be used during an appointment to help patients weigh the risks and benefits of treatments depending on their health, lifestyle and preferences.

More than one appointment may be necessary before a treatment option is selected.

A patient should be able to talk about their decision again and change their mind, especially if health or circumstances change.

Health staff should have an up-to-date list of all the medicines patients are taking, especially if they readmitted to hospitals, transferred to a different hospital or when they are discharged.

During transitions of care, relevant information about patient’s medicines is discussed and shared with them, family members or caregivers.

Information about patients and their medicines should also be shared between health and social care practitioners involved. This ensures that everyone involved in the patient’s care has the information required to help prevent mistakes with their medicines wherever possible.

In the case of patients taking several medicines, those who have a chronic ailment, or the elderly, a healthcare professional may arrange a meeting with them to discuss whether they are getting the best from their drugs. The patient’s family or caregiver may be involved in this meeting. The support could also include advice from a pharmacist, telephone support or home visits by a doctor or nurse.

Pharmacy staff through the concept of therapeutic drug monitoring can facilitate appropriate dose adjustments to ensure optimal treatment outcomes. Hospitals should embrace this concept to promote safe medication use in special populations.

The writers are Clinical Pharmacists at Aga Khan University Hospital.