Why every Australian should record the medicines they are taking: Be Medicinewise Week 2019

A YouGov Galaxy survey* released by NPS MedicineWise for Be Medicinewise Week (19-25 August) indicates that nearly three quarters of Australians taking medicines on a regular basis are not actually keeping a complete record—and this has implications for safe and effective medicines use.

Keep a complete list of your medicines

According to the new survey, only about one in three (31%) Australians who regularly take two or more medicines actually keep a list of all their prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines. 

A further 26% of people who take regular medicines only keep a list of their prescription medicines, while the remaining 43% only record some, or none, of their medicines.

NPS MedicineWise Chief Executive Officer and pharmacist, Adj A/Prof Steve Morris says keeping an updated and complete list of all your medicines, including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines, is an important part of being medicinewise.

“Keeping track of all your medicines can help reduce the risk of medicine interactions and double-ups, and can help you get the most out of your medicines, safely,” said Mr Morris.

“A medicines list needs to include medicines that have been prescribed by a health professional, as well as anything else you take for your health. This includes vitamins and herbal supplements as these are also considered medicines. The information in a medicines list can help to reduce the risk of medicine interactions when starting a new medicine and can help your healthcare provider when they review your medicines. 

“Using an NPS MedicineWise Medicines List or our free MedicineWise app are easy ways to keep this record of everything you are taking,” he said.

Know the active ingredient

Upcoming changes to the way medicines are prescribed are an important reason for people to understand what the active ingredient in their medicine is. Active ingredient prescribing—announced in the 2018-19 Federal Budget**—means most medicines will be prescribed by the active ingredient rather than the brand name. To avoid confusion it’s important people understand the difference and learn to recognise their medicines by the active ingredient. 

The active ingredient is the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. The same active ingredient can come in different forms, such as in a tablet or as a liquid, and can also be sold as different brands – so it’s important to know how to recognise the active ingredient to avoid putting yourself at risk of accidental overdosing.

The YouGov Galaxy survey indicates that people are better at recording the brand of their medicine than the active ingredient. Of those people who record information about their medicines, only one in five (22%) said they’d record the active ingredient of the medicine – compared to half of those people (48%) saying they’d capture the brand name of the medicine.

When reflecting on the last time they had discussed a newly prescribed medicine with a doctor or pharmacist, around half of all people surveyed said they had spoken about how much of the medicine they needed to take each time, when and how to take the medicine, how long they should take the medicine for or what side effects might happen. However, only 16% of people said they had discussed what active ingredient was in the medicine.

“Knowing what the active ingredient is in a medicine is an important part of being medicinewise – and being safe when you take your medicines,” said Mr Morris.

“Taking more than one medicine with the same active ingredient may mean that you are accidentally taking too much of that active ingredient. This can have a number of unintended consequences such as the medicines not working as well, increased risk of side effects, and increased chance of harm,” he said.

How to be medicinewise

Being medicinewise means being better informed, and using available resources to ‘get to know the language of medicines’, which is the theme for this year’s Be Medicinewise Week. Here are some tips and resources from NPS MedicineWise to help:

1. Keep a medicines list: This is a great way to keep track of the medicines you are currently taking and why you are taking them. Remember to note the active ingredient of the medicine, what it is for, the dose and when to take it. Share and update your medicines list with your health professional when you change your medicines. NPS MedicineWise has a medicines list to download.

2. Use the MedicineWise app: This free app can easily store a record of all your medicines, schedule reminders and provide information on your medicines. It can also help people who care for loved ones who use multiple medicines. Download the MedicineWise app from your preferred app store.

3. Call the Medicines Line: This is a free phone service from NPS MedicineWise providing consumers with information from health professionals on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals). If you have any questions about your medicines, call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for the cost of a local call (calls from mobiles may cost more). Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays). 

4. Ask your health professional if you have any questions: If there is something you don’t know or don’t understand, or if you haven’t checked when something changes with your medicines, then you need to ask. Asking your health professional any questions you may have is the best way to get the most out of your medicines.

About Be Medicinewise Week

Be Medicinewise Week is on 19-25 August. Now in its ninth year, Be Medicinewise Week is an annual health awareness week led by NPS MedicineWise. This year is about ‘getting to know the language of medicines,’ and focuses on communicating about medicines, knowing the right information to keep and the right questions to ask.

The Be Medicinewise Week website contains more information and resources on how to take part in this year’s Be Medicinewise Week and get to know the language of medicines.

*YouGov Galaxy poll of 1037 adults conducted in July 2019 for NPS MedicineWise, with 527 respondents regularly taking 2 or more medicines. 

**Additional information about Active Ingredient Prescribing

• The 2018-19 Budget announced the Government’s commitment to the development and implementation of electronic prescribing, including action ingredient prescribing. This is an initiative of the Commonwealth Department of Health.

• The initiative will mean prescribers will prescribe most medicines by their active ingredient, not the brand name. This is designed to help people recognise medicines by their active ingredient to reduce confusion and medication safety risks.

• Benefits include decreasing out-of-pocket expenses for people through increased use of generic and biosimilar medicines and supporting sustainability of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme which subsidises the cost of medicines for Australians.

• It won’t interfere with people’s choice of medicines, or a doctor’s ability to prescribe the medicine that best meets the individual’s clinical need.

• The Commonwealth Department of Health will make available further information about the implementation of active ingredient prescribing in the near future.