Medicines are usually prescribed by a doctor. Other healthcare professionals that can prescribe medicines include:
Meeting your healthcare professional
If you've got an appointment with a healthcare professional, they'll look to:
- ask to hear about your symptoms
- examine your symptoms if this is necessary
- do some tests if this is necessary
This'll help to decide if you need treatment and, if so, what kind of treatments could be considered.
In preparation for any appointment or discussion with a healthcare professional, you should get familiar with ‘It’s OK to Ask’. These are questions that you should feel able to ask at your appointment. This'll help you to be more involved in the decision-making process around your care.
What happens if you need a prescription?
If you need a prescription, a healthcare professional will speak to you about your options. They'll also listen to what's important to you. They'll then:
- help you decide on the most appropriate medicine for your symptoms
- help you decide if you need more than one type of medication
- advise you on the best dose of the medication
The healthcare professional will describe the benefits and possible risks of treatment. They'll also explain how likely these are to happen to you and make the best decision for you around your care and treatment.
They'll usually choose medicine that's in your health board’s local 'formulary'.
How to take your prescription
A healthcare professional will tell you how to take your prescription safely. They'll explain:
- what the medicine is called
- what it's used for
- how you should take it
- possible side effects
- whether you can stop any of the other medicines you're taking
It's important that you follow the advice you've been given on how to take your prescription. This'll make sure you're taking it safely and that you get the most benefit from it.
Benefits of taking your prescription
Your prescription may benefit you by helping to:
- treat a long term condition
- treat an infection
- relieve symptoms
- reduce pain
- improve your mobility
- reduce the risk of an early death
Some medications are given for a short time. For example, antibiotics for an infection. Other medications are given for longer period of time and will be needed even if you don't have symptoms. At times there may be a need to try different medications to find the best one for you.
Risks of medicines
Risk is the chance of harm from a medicine. All medicines can cause harm. Some medicines can cause more harm than others.
Some possible risks of medicines include:
- getting side effects
- a new medicine reacting with other medicines, alcohol or some foods
- not getting the results that were expected from a medicine
Who's more at risk of side effects from a medicine?
You may be at an increased risk from taking certain medications if you:
- are under 18
- are over 70 years of age
- are taking more than 5 medicines
- are taking a combination of medicines
- have got more than one medical condition
- have kidneys or liver that don't work properly
- don't take your medicine as prescribed
Your healthcare professional can help you understand the risks of taking a medicine. They'll also tell you what you can do to reduce them.
What to do if you experience side effects
If you experience any side effects when taking your medication, you should speak to a healthcare professional.
Reporting side effects
The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you're taking. It's run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Further information on the Yellow Card Scheme
What to do if you think your medicine isn't working
Speak to a healthcare professional if you don't think your medicine is working.
The healthcare professional will talk to you about your medicine. They'll check that it's working for you and may suggest some changes to your medicine or how you take it. You should follow the advice you've been given on how to take your medicine to get the most benefit from it.
Some medicines don't work immediately. For example, it may take a few days before you start to feel better if you've been given an antibiotic or medicine to treat depression.
Do not stop taking essential medicines without talking to your healthcare professional.
Why you shouldn't share prescriptions
Your medicines have been prescribed specifically for you. Even if 2 people have the same medical condition they may not be able to take the same medicine. This means you should:
- never share your medicines with anyone
- not take medicines that have been prescribed for other people
What to do if you no longer need a medicine
You can take medicines you no longer need to a community pharmacy. They'll destroy them safely for you. This includes empty inhalers. Returning these to the community pharmacy to be destroyed is the most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of them.
You shouldn't flush medicines down the toilet or put them in a household bin. All medicines should be kept out of the reach of children.
If you have a repeat prescription, only order the medicine you need. Tell your healthcare professional if you no longer take any of the medicines.
Further information on prescriptions
Healthcare Improvement Scotland have created an animation on treatment options. It also explains how you can work with your doctor (or other healthcare professional). This'll help to ensure you gain the greatest benefit from your treatment.