What do you know about your prescription medicines?

Prescription medicines are often a necessary part of looking after yourself and getting yourself well, but how much do you really know about what you're putting in your body?

Understanding the medicines you are taking, knowing how to store them properly and being clued up about the effects on your body can all help to promote better health.

Be Medicinewise Week, is an annual initiative from health awareness organisation NPS that aims to encourage Australians to "get wise" about their health and their medicines. Being knowledgeable about your medicines is important for everyone, but it's especially so for older Australians who often have to take multiple medicines each day.

According to a survey undertaken by NPS, only 55 per cent of older Australians keep a list of their medicines and of the proportion who don't, 30 per cent have no way of monitoring what they are taking. Another area that many people may need more education in concerns the side effects and risks of taking medicines, with the survey also revealing one in four people think prescription medicines rarely or never have side effects.

Being wise about your medicine plays an important role in supporting your overall health and wellbeing, so it's never too late to learn more about what you're taking.

Learning more about your medicines

Knowing your medication information is vital for taking the prescribed doses safely. If you have any questions about the medicines you're taking, how best to take them and the side effects for your body, it's important to get in touch with your doctor or healthcare professional.

It's particularly important for older Australians to take more of an active role with their medicines, as bodies change during the ageing process and this can affect the way they handle medicine interactions.

If you don't know the active ingredient in your medicines, what the benefits and possible risks are, how to take them or what the alternative treatment options are, these are all good questions to ask your doctor.

Storage of prescription medicines is also key. In general, they should be kept in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight. Follow the directions on your medicine for specific storage instructions and remember to keep them close during times of emergency when you may need to evacuate, such as during a bushfire. It's also important to only take the medicines that have been prescribed specifically for you, not for anyone else (even a family member or friend).

Get wise about health care

Learning about health insurance is an essential part of being informed about your healthcare.

Health insurance policies typically fall into two main categories - hospital cover for the cost of in-hospital treatments and general treatment policies (or extras cover) which can cover you for ancillary services such as dental and optical treatments. Many health funds also offer a combined policy that will cover certain hospital and general treatment expenses, or you can take it upon yourself to purchase separate policies to cover different aspects of each category.

Not all policies cover every type of treatment you may require, so it's important to know about any exclusions and restrictions. Under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), some prescription medicines are provided at a government-subsidised price. However, private health insurance can help to cover many of the prescription medicines that aren't listed on the PBS.

You may be required to make a co-payment towards the cost of some medicines, and there will also be limits on how much you can claim, so you may want to compare different health insurance policies to see what it included.

These articles are provided as reference material to allow more informed decision making, but are not intended as being a complete source of information on any topic. All readers should make their own independent analysis on the topic to make sure they have considered the aspects that are important to them.