Proper Use of Medicines: The what, when, where and how

While medications can help to treat diseases, they can cause unwanted side effects when used incorrectly. The lack of knowledge pertaining to medicines is generally the cause of their inappropriate use. Therefore, health care professionals are duty-bound to empower their patients in order to prevent medicine-related problems. 


What is the medicine and what is it supposed to do?  

This may sound like a simple question but surprisingly, many patients generally leave the clinics without knowing what medications they have been prescribed and take them blindly without understanding. It is important to ask for information such as the name of the medicine (brand name and generic name), the dosage and what it is for. Also, enquire if the newly prescribed medications work safely with the other medicines or dietary supplements that you are taking. Do not hesitate to ask your pharmacists or doctors.  


What side effects should I expect? 

Since medicines are not magic bullets (the perfect drug which cure a disease without any side effects), certain individuals may experience some side effects and should be made aware of that from the start. For instance, if a drug can cause drowsiness, you should be alerted that this drug can interfere with driving, machinery operations or other activities.  

 In the case when taking insulin, you need to know the symptoms and what to do when the blood sugar drops too low. For example, bring along some candies with you.  It is best to know how to prevent this from happening, which is by having regular meals and make sure you have your meals within 30 minutes of insulin injection (for day time injection). 


When do I take the medicine and for how long? 

Does “four times a day” imply take one tablet every six hours? So you have to take it in the middle of the night or can you just space out the doses during the time that you are awake?  

 If written on the label “Take three tablets daily”, should you take all three tablets once a day, or one tablet three times a day?  

 Another important aspect is the duration. Do you take the medicines as needed and stop after symptoms resolve? Or must you complete the whole course as in the case of antibiotic therapy? Some medications such as antifungal cream must be applied continuously for two weeks after recovery. You may feel fine but the treatment course is deemed incomplete which may result in subsequent relapse. 

 Try to take your medications at the same time every day. If you miss a dose of your medication, take it as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and resume your regular medication schedule. Do not take two doses to replace the dose you missed. 


How do I take the medicines? 

This is the list of questions you should consider: 

  • Can I take all the medicines together at the same time? 
  • Whether to take it before, during, or after meals? 
  • Can I crush the tablets or must I swallow the whole tablet? 
  • What do I do if I miss or forget a dose? 
  • Are there any other special instructions to follow? 
  • What foods, drinks, other medicines, supplements, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine? 

 Before taking any new medicine or supplement, check with your pharmacist to ensure that it does not interact with medications you are already taking. 


Where to get more information 

If you have any questions or concerns, ask your pharmacist. If you are looking for information online, be sure that you are using reliable sources.  


What information should I always share with my healthcare provider? 

Inform your healthcare providers (doctor, pharmacist, dentist): 

  • If you are allergic to any medications, food, or other substances 
  • Your current list of medications, dietary supplements and other medical problems  
  • If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant 
  • If you are breastfeeding 


Tips for safe medicine use 

  • Make a list of all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter products and dietary supplements. The list should include: name of each medicine, name of prescriber, reason it was prescribed, the dosage, number of time(s) you take in a day. 
  • Inform your healthcare providers including dentists the list of medications you are taking. 
  • Use a memory aid which can prompt you to take your medicines on time. For examples, use mealtime or bedtime as a reminder. You may also use alarms or pill boxes.  
  • Do not adjust doses of medication to save money or due to other concerns such as side effects. Discuss with your pharmacist or doctor to design a regimen that best suits your needs.  
  • Do not take medicines prescribed for another person or give yours to someone else.  
  • Do not take any medications with alcoholic beverages. 
  • Do not break or crush medications unless you are instructed to do so. 




  1. Literacy and misunderstanding prescription drug labels. Annals of Internal Medicines 2006; 145:887-94 [cited 20th September 2017]. 
  2. Medicines and you: a guide for older adults. 2016 [cited 20th September 2017]. Available from: 
  3. Medications, Vitamins, & Herbal Remedies. 2017 [cited 20th September 2017]. Available from: 
  4. A national survey on the use of medicines (NSUM) by Malaysian consumers. MOH 2016 [cited 20th September 2017]. Available from: 


Chloe Lee
Chloe Lee

B.Pharm, R.Ph

An enthusiastic pharmacist practicing clinical pharmacy.

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