A prescription medicine is any medicine that needs written authorisation by your doctor or other prescriber before the pharmacist can supply it to you. Prescriptions contain information about the dose and type of medicine your prescriber has advised you to take. Beware of buying medicines online, as some sites may be illegal or unreliable.
You can’t get prescription medicines unless someone with authority prescribes them. Usually, this means a written prescription from your doctor. Dentists, optometrists, midwives and nurse practitioners may also be authorised to prescribe medicines for you.
The prescription is a form with information about the required medicine, including its name, form, strength, dose, quantity to be dispensed, how long you need to take it for and any other instructions for use.
Make sure you understand why you are being prescribed a medicine, how you are meant to take it and any possible side effects. Keep asking your doctor or other prescriber questions until you feel satisfied. You can also ask your pharmacist for advice.
Instructions on how to take the medicine are typed on a label and stuck to the medicine container by your pharmacist.
The prescription form
Doctors and other prescribers use computers to prepare prescriptions or they may write prescriptions by hand using medical shorthand that pharmacists can understand.
Prescribers use Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) prescription forms when your prescription medicine can be subsidised by the PBS. The PBS prescription is a standard form that contains:
- The prescriber’s name, address and telephone number of their practice, and their prescriber number
- Your name and address
- Your Medicare number and entitlement number (if applicable)
- The prescriber’s signature and date the prescription was written
- Tick boxes that indicate whether you are eligible for any concessions on the purchase price of the prescription medicine
- Information about the prescription medicine, including the dose.
Information about the prescription medicine
The prescription gives the pharmacist details about the required prescription medicine including:
- The name of the medicine (its active ingredient name and/or brand name)
- Whether or not brand substitution is allowed – that means, if the pharmacist can give you an alternative brand of your medicine that contains the same active ingredient
- The form of your medicine – for example, tablets, liquid or cream
- The strength of your medicine – for example, 75 milligrams (mg) per tablet or 75 mg per millilitre (ml) of liquid
- Dosage of medicine you need to take – for example, one tablet once daily
- Other instructions for taking the medicine – for example, how long you need to take it for
- Quantity of medicine required – for example, 40 tablets
- Number of repeat prescriptions, if any, to be filled once the current prescription runs out.
Information on the prescription medicine pharmacy label
The pharmacist will dispense the prescription medicine using the details and instructions on the prescription form. The information from the prescription will be repeated on the label that the pharmacist will stick to the medicine container.
The pharmacist may include other instructions about taking and looking after your medicine correctly. For example, ‘to be taken with meals’, or ‘to be stored in a cool place’.
The pharmacist may put warning stickers on your medicine container – for example ‘may cause dizziness’ or ‘do not drink alcohol’.
Ask your pharmacist to explain any instructions or warnings if there is anything you don’t understand.
Consumer Medicine Information (CMI)
All prescription medicines have an information leaflet called Consumer Medicine Information (CMI). The content of the leaflet is defined by legislation and includes important information in plain English that you need to know before, during and after taking the medicine, including how to use it, side effects and precautions.
A CMI leaflet for your prescription medicine is available free from your pharmacist or doctor, and is sometimes found inside the medicine packaging. CMIs are also available on the web, including the Better Health Channel and NPS websites.
Some things to remember when you use the CMI:
- Don’t confuse advertising material with the CMI. The CMI is checked for accuracy by regulatory medicine authorities and is clearly headed ‘Consumer Medicine Information’. If you’re unsure about what information you have, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Information in the CMI, including how it might be taken and possible dosages, may differ from the information on the label attached to the medicine container. Make sure you take the medicine strictly as prescribed and talk to your prescriber if you have any concerns.
- Read carefully through the list of possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you are worried or unsure about the side effects for your medicine.
Some people see a number of different general practitioner (GP) doctors. If you do, consider the following points:
- Make sure the doctor treating you has your complete medical record. If you see a different doctor on another occasion, make sure you inform them of any previous treatment.
- Medicines can interact with each other to cause unwanted effects. Tell each doctor about any medicines you are taking, including prescription, non-prescription (over-the-counter) and complementary medicines (such as herbal remedies and vitamin supplements).
- Sticking to one doctor has its advantages, especially if you have an ongoing illness that requires regular medical supervision and treatment.
Beware of buying prescription medicines online
The internet allows consumers to buy all sorts of products online, including prescription medicines. Some sites are legitimate. However, other sites operate outside Australian law, which means you run the risk of buying fake, out-of-date, poor quality or unsafe medicines.
Before you consider buying prescription medicines online:
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist first about whether a particular medicine is suitable for you.
- If you want to purchase your medicines over the Internet, ask your doctor for recommended online pharmacies. Avoid using overseas websites.
- Always see your doctor for a diagnosis. Avoid sites that offer to diagnose your illness online.
- Avoid websites that offer to sell you prescription medicines without a prescription.
Where to get help
- Your doctor or other prescriber
- Your pharmacist
- Medicines Line (Australia) Tel. 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) – for information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines.
Things to remember
- A prescription medicine is any medicine that needs your doctor or other prescriber’s authorisation before the pharmacist can supply it to you.
- Instructions on how to take the medicine are typed on a label and stuck to the medicine container by your pharmacist.
- All prescription medicines have an information leaflet called Consumer Medicine Information (CMI).
- Know why you are taking the medicine, how you need to take it correctly and for how long. Ask your prescriber or pharmacist if you’re unsure about anything.
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Last reviewed: October 2011
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