Finding good information about medicines

There are many places you can learn about medicines, how they can help you and any unwanted effects they might have. It can be hard to tell what is true and useful, and what might be wrong. Read on to learn more about finding information about medicines that is helpful.


Know about the active ingredient


Most medicines have two names:

  • the active ingredient, which is the chemical in the medicine that makes it work, and
  • the brand name, which is the name given to the medicine by the company who makes it.

If you know the active ingredient, you can:

  • see when two different brands are the same medicine
  • spot when two medicines are not the same. Some brand names can sound almost the same. This does not mean they have the same active ingredient or that you can take them for the same condition
  • check that you’re not taking a medicine you can react to (allergic reaction)
  • check that you’re not taking a medicine you shouldn’t be taking with your other medicines, or interacting medicines (for instance, iron and calcium can affect certain thyroid medicines)
  • check brands that can replace your normal medicines when you visit other countries (for instance, brands you buy from your local ethnic shops, which are imported to Australia)
  • avoid taking too much or too little of your medicine if you forget.

Some medicines come in more than one strength and may have more than one active ingredient. You can find the active ingredient name(s) on the medicine’s package and pharmacy label. The package must show the strength of the medicine – how much of the active ingredient is in the product.

There may be times when you are not sure how to find the active ingredient. Ask your health professional about where you can find it.

Always check the active ingredient when you leave the hospital with medicines. This will lower the chance of taking too much by mistake or having your medicines work against each other.

Use the consumer medicine information (CMI) to learn more

A CMI is a document that tells you about the prescription medicines you get from a pharmacy. Some non-prescription medicines have CMIs as well. A CMI will tell you what you need to know about taking your medicine. 

The company that makes the medicine writes the CMI. They must follow government rules to make sure the facts are correct, without bias and easy to understand.

Check that the brand name on the CMI matches the brand name of your medicine. This will often be the largest text at the top of the page. This will also make sure you are reading the correct CMI.

Reading the CMI will help you get the best and safest use of the medicine. You can use it to check:

  • the brand name and active ingredient
  • if it makes your other medicines work more or less strongly
  • what to do if you miss a dose
  • how to store your medicine safely
  • what to do if you have any medicine left over after following your health professionals instructions
  • contact details of the company that made it.

Don’t use it to find the cause of your illness, or treat the illness yourself.

Take the CMI with you when you see your health professional to ask any questions you may have.

You can get a CMI by

  • using the NPS MedicineWise Medicine Finder. You can read the information online or download a copy for later. For many medicines our Medicine Finder has an option to download a large text version of the CMI.
  • asking your health professional to print it for you
  • looking inside the pack or box, (sometimes the CMI is in the pack)
  • phoning Medicines Line on 1300 633 424
  • getting in touch with the medical information department of the company that made your medicine.

Finding health information you can trust

Talking is key

Tell your health professional about all the medicines you take. This will lower the chance of your medicines working against each other.

Keep in mind that medicines don’t just come on a doctor's script. They can also be over-the-counter and complementary medicines you may be taking.

If you are having, or think you might have, trouble taking your medicines, speak with your health professional. They will know different ways to safely pack your medicines to help remember when to take them. They can also help find tools to help open bottles or cut pills, and other ways to make sure you take your medicines at the right time.

When you can't speak with someone

The health professionals who look after you are the best way to find out about the medicines you take, or any tests or treatments that you think you might need. But sometimes you might not be able to speak with them. This is why you need to know where else you can go for helpful and correct information about illnesses, medicines, tests and treatments.

Information you can trust should be:

  • based on good research
  • up-to-date
  • right for your situation

Medicines Line

If you have questions or worries about any medicine you or someone you care for are taking you can call the Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to speak with a health professional.  They can help you learn more about all sorts of medicines including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals). 

It will be the cost of a local call (calls from mobiles may cost more). Business hours are Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm AEST (except public holidays).

Using online websites or social media

There are many reasons why you might want to learn more about a certain illness or treatment. It may be if you or a loved one become sick. Or maybe you are starting a new medicine or your doctor has sent you for a test. 

There are lots of ways we can go 'online' to find out information. It might be using a search engine like Google or Reddit, watching a video clip on TikTok, or reading a story on Facebook or Instagram. 

Many professional organisations and support groups provide good information on their websites about different illnesses, medicines and treatments.

In Australia, the government-funded website healthdirect only links to websites that meet its quality standards. Some other trusted sites are:

However, for every trustworthy website or online community you might find, there will be many more that are not giving you good quality, truthful or fact-based information.

Assessing the quality of online information

Here are five questions to help you decide if the medical or health information you find on the internet or through social media is correct, up to date and right for you.

1. Who is giving you the information?

Is it clear where the information is coming from? Who owns the website? Is the person speaking or posting getting paid for what they are saying or writing? Are they an expert in the area they are giving information on?

If it is not clear, be careful. Trusted websites or online communities are usually run by:

  • a government organisation
  • an independent group
  • a health or medical professional organisation
  • a patient support group.

Check to see if the website, and the owner linked with it, is Australian. If not, some of the content given might not be right for you. Look for websites that end in and You can also check:

  • the 'About us' page to find out more about who runs a website and if they have expertise in the area you are looking for information about
  • the user profile to find some background information on a person who is speaking, writing or posting information.

2. Is the information biased?

Biased information gives you one point of view, using selected facts and quotes to support that point of view. Facts that do not support that point of view are often not added. Most websites and social media posts/videos have a reason for being created. They can give you information, sell a product or support a way of thinking. Knowing the purpose of an online site can help you judge how balanced the information might be. Sites that talk about the positives and negatives are more likely to be balanced. Sites that give content or information, without trying to sell a product or show ads, will likely be less biased.

When it comes to medicines and health, information should be based on research. Some online sites will give you a list of information sources, so you can do your own research as well.

3. Does it promise too much?

 Warning signs to watch out for are online sites or people who:

  • promise that a medicine will be work well for everyone
  • talk about instant cures or rapid results
  • use words like ‘breakthrough’, ‘secret ingredient’, ‘scientific research’ (without saying what that research showed) or ‘free from side effects’
  • ask for payment in order to learn more.

4. Is the information up to date?

Look for dates on web pages. You can usually find this at the bottom of each page. This can be important for some cases. Information about an illness and its causes may not change much in 2 or 3 years. Information about its treatment may change within that time. You can also check links on the website: a lot of broken links suggest a website is out of date. A broken link is a link to a another webpage or online site that doesn’t work.

5. Are the links of good quality?

Most websites and many posts link to other online sites. Take a look at some of these links. Do they meet the points above that suggest good quality? Are they to organisations or people that you have not heard of or who are not experts in the area you are looking into? If the links don’t meet your quality standards, then they are more likely to be poor quality with information that may not be correct or truthful.

Some trusted health websites

Many professional organisations and support groups provide good information on their websites about different illnesses, medicines and treatments. 

In Australia, the government-funded website healthdirect only links to websites that meet its quality standards. Some other trusted sites are: