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Questions to ask before taking a medicine

7-minute read

Key facts

  • You have the right to ask your pharmacist or GP about the medicines you are prescribed.
  • It’s important to be aware of the side effects of medicines.
  • Some medicines work almost immediately, but with others, it may be weeks before you notice a difference.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medicine is on the PBS. If it's not, you will need to pay the full price.

Asking questions about your treatment or medicine is important to help you understand your options.

You have a right to ask your pharmacist or doctor about the medicines you are prescribed, so don't feel shy. It also helps you to know what to expect if you take a medicine, stop taking it or don't take it at all.

Here are some key questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking a medicine.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Pain Question Planner to prepare for your doctor’s appointment.

What are the likely benefits of taking this medicine?

Medicines work in different ways. Some medicines may reduce some or all of the symptoms of an illness; others may prevent illness or complications.

Ask your doctor what benefits you can expect from the medicine, and then think about what those benefits mean to you.

What side effects should I be aware of?

Side effects are unwanted effects of a medicine. All medicines can cause side effects, but not everybody will experience them. It’s important to be aware of the side effects of medicines so that you know what to do if you experience them.

Ask your doctor about:

  • common side effects — these side effects are usually less serious but more common
  • serious side effects — these side effects occur less frequently but may have a greater impact

It’s a good idea to ask your doctor about possible interactions with other medicines. You can also get information about side effects from the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet that comes with all prescription and pharmacist-only medicines.

What would happen if I didn't take this medicine?

You might decide you don't want to take a medicine your doctor has prescribed. You might also think you don't want to risk the side effects, you can't afford it, or you'll 'get better anyway'.

This is your right. But some conditions will get worse and perhaps cause permanent damage to your health if you don't take a prescribed medicine.

How will I know if the medicine is working and how long will that take?

Some medicines, including pain-relief medicines, work almost immediately but with others, such as antidepressants, it may be weeks before you notice a difference.

Before you start taking a medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist how long it will take for the medicine to start working and how will you know if it is working.

What other treatment options are available?

There may be other medicines to consider for your condition. Some medicines may be more effective but have a greater risk of side effects.

It is important to weigh up the benefits and risks for each medicine option. The cost of the medicines may also vary widely, so you may want to ask if there are more affordable alternatives.

In some cases, medicine may not be the only or best approach to improving your condition. Sometimes lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, losing weight (if you are overweight) and physical activity, may be effective treatments.

For some conditions, there might be other options such as physiotherapy, counselling or surgery.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How do I take the medicine and for how long?

Medicines come in many forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, liquids, patches, inhalations and suppositories.

Some are taken once a day or once a week; others, several times a day.

Whatever the type of medicine, it is important to ask your doctor how and when to take it. You can also talk to a pharmacist or check the CMI.

Some medicines are taken for only a short period, but others are taken for life. For example, antibiotics are usually taken for a limited time, but they need to be taken for the entire period prescribed — even if you start to feel better — to avoid antibiotic resistance.

Always check with a healthcare professional if you plan to stop taking a medicine. Suddenly stopping some medicines, such as antidepressants, might cause unwanted symptoms.

How much will it cost?

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) subsidises the cost of medicines for most medical conditions.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medicine is on the PBS. If it is not on the PBS, you will need to pay the full price.

If the cost of the medicine is a problem, ask your doctor if there are more affordable options.

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Last reviewed: January 2021


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