"The words just get in the way"
"Take this caplet 3 times daily on an empty stomach."
"Take this tablet twice a day, but not with dairy products"
"Take this antibiotic until finished" (but what happens if I have a bad reaction to it?)
Have you ever had questions about instructions like these? Have you always felt clear about what medicine to take and how to take it?  Often, instructions are given, but not always heard or understood.
Sometimes, we in the "pharmacy world" talk, assuming that we are being clear, but have you, the patient, understood? 
Have you been busy or distracted and missed some of our instructions? 
Have you wanted to ask a question, but refrained from asking for some reason?
Have we used a term that is not familiar to you?
Let's take a test, shall we?
Communication is vital for everything in life, especially when we are trying to discuss serious issues like our health. Sometimes certain words are spoken but not necessarily understood.
To help us all understand our medications better and how to use them, let's take a little test, shall we? I will ask some multiple choice questions about terms or phrases used when discussing medications. You choose the best answer and see the correct answers at the end of this article... 
1. What is a caplet?
a- a type of capsule
b- a capsule-shaped tablet
c- a double-sided device
d- a small hat
2. What is an enteric-coated tablet?
a- a tablet that should be chewed
b- a tablet with a flavoured coating
c- this is not a tablet to be swallowed; rather it is used in the computer industry
d- a tablet designed to not dissolve in the stomach, but rather to dissolve in the intestines
3. What does it mean to take a medication "on an empty stomach"?
a- take it 2 hours before eating
b- take it 30 minutes after eating
c- take it 30 to 60 minutes before or 2 hours after eating 
d- take it immediately after vomiting
4. What should you do if you vomit 15 minutes after swallowing a medication?
a- wait until you feel a bit better, then try it again (possibly with food unless the pharmacist has said not to take with food)
b- never take that medication again in the future
c- go to the emergency room at the hospital
d- do not take another dose until the recommended time interval has passed (eg. every 8 hours)
5. What is the difference between a side-effect and an allergic reaction?
a- a side effect is insignificant; an allergic reaction is always deadly
b- a side-effect only affects one side of the body; an allergic reaction affects the whole body
c- a side-effect can be serious or not; an allergic reaction can be a rash (hives), can cause difficulty in breathing, and sometimes can be fatal.
6. What is an "analgesic"?
a- a disease of the intestines
b- a drug that puts someone to sleep
c- a drug that is used to treat pain
d- a drug that "freezes" the skin prior to an injection
7. What does it mean to "take this medication with food"?
a- take the medication 1 or 2 hours after you have eaten
b- carefully place the tablet or capsule inside a piece of cheese or soft food, then swallow the whole thing (food and medicine in one gulp)
c- take the medication during a meal or immediately after eating
8. How much is 1 tablespoonful?
a- 5ml
b- 15ml or 3 teaspoonfuls
c- 20ml or 4 teaspoonfuls
d- 45cc.
9. If I have a narcotic prescription, are there any restrictions on who may pick it up?
a- Only myself, the patient, unless I the patient give authorization to the pharmacy for someone else to pick it up and sign for it (and show ID).
b- Only myself, the patient, at all times.
c- Anybody may pick it up, no restrictions.
d- Only myself or a family member (and show ID).
10. Are there anymore questions?
a- no, not ever
b- no more today, but maybe again in the future
c- there are always questions in life
Well, that was fun, wasn't it?
The answers are : 1-B,  2-D,  3-C,  4-A,  5-C,  6-C,  7-C,  8-B,  9-A ,  10-C. The whole purpose of this exercise is, of course, not to see how much anybody knows; rather the purpose is to make us all more aware that communication is not always as successful as we assume it to be. Often, we can be left with questions after talking with the pharmacist, the doctor, or other health-care providers.
The most important message of this topic is to remind each of us to ASK QUESTIONS IF YOU ARE NOT SURE about how to take your medications, why you are taking them, or what to do if you are having some issue with the drugs or treatment.
Talk with your pharmacist... Make an appointment for a "MedsCheck"
Your pharmacist is always willing to answer your questions. A one-on-one "MedsCheck" is a great way to review and understand more thoroughly about your medications. Give us a call or talk to us next time you are in our pharmacy. 
Your pharmacist cares about your total health... not just drugs...
Looking ahead to next month, we at Pharmasave Smith Drugs & Apothecary will be giving the flu shot! If you would like an immunization to protect you against influenza ("the flu"), we will be arranging appointments for November. You may have an appointment for any Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoon during the month of November. More information coming in the weeks ahead... 

Philip A. Smith, B.Sc.Phm.