COLUMN: ‘Ease doubts over new medications’

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We all like to try something new – a car, house, clothes, the latest must-have mobile phone or a holiday.

However, I have never met anybody who was happy to have a new medicine, even though it’s intended to make them better, or at the very least feel better.

Lots of thoughts go through people’s minds – from whether the medicine will work to what the side effects might be and even, what if it doesn’t work? Unfortunately, we are all different and although your doctor will have made an appropriate choice of medicine for you, there is no guarantee.

The only way to find out if it helps is to actually take it – easier said than done if you are of a nervous disposition.

Most people have a number of questions and concerns, and often miss an opportunity to have a chat to the pharmacist about their new medicine. It’s only when they get home and look at what they have been prescribed that they begin to have a range of doubts.

The number one concern is usually what are the side effects? ‘Helpfully’, the patient information leaflet provides an exhaustive list of these, but this also puts you in the frame of mind where you are looking for trouble.

The side effects are listed in order of likelihood that they could be experienced. Common may affect up to one in ten people, uncommon is one in 100, rare is one in 1,000 and very rare is one in 10,000.

Research shows that after only ten days, two-thirds of patients prescribed a new medicine reported problems including side effects, difficulties taking the medicine and a need for further information. More seriously around one in seven people receiving a new medicine take few, if any, doses.

Another popular concern is about interactions, and whether or not the new medicine will sit comfortably with any currently taken medication. The good news here is that your doctor will have checked for obvious interactions and chosen something for you that does ‘mix’.

The bad news may be that there could be an interaction, but the extent of any potential problem may not be known until you have taken the new medicine.

You will, of course, need to know when and how to take the medicine and this should be stated on the label, though even this can be complicated. Questions such as before or after food, whether or not the medication should be swallowed whole or could it be chewed, and what time of day all need to be answered.

Not to mention the all-important: ‘Can I have a drink with these tablets?’

Finally, you might wonder what if it doesn’t work? Try asking your pharmacist about the medicine. All of the above fears are best discussed and out in the open. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you on when and how to take the medicine, what side effects, if any, you may experience and what the likelihood is of having a problem.

They will be happy to talk through your uncertainties and concerns, which will allay a lot of your fears.

Where medicines are newly prescribed for certain long term conditions such as high blood pressure, blood thinning, asthma or COPD, and diabetes, there is a

New Medicine Service (NMS).

This is designed to support patients during the first month and is a three-stage process. Firstly, information is provided at the time of dispensing on the new medicine and when/how to use it. Secondly, after a couple of weeks, the pharmacist will get in touch to see how things are going and offer additional advice as appropriate where there are problems.

Finally, three to four weeks after starting the medicine, there will be another opportunity to discuss any issues or concerns still remaining. Even if your new medication is not part of the NMS scheme your pharmacist will be happy to talk to you about your medication.

So the next time you have something newly prescribed, why not try something new and ask your pharmacist for advice.