Going to hospital while taking multiple medicines

Going to hospital can be a confusing time for people, especially those taking multiple medicines. Keeping a medicines list can help. Listen to people taking multiple medicines, & also their doctors, talk about going to hospital.

Going to hospital can be a confusing time for people, particularly when it is a new experience. Most people will continue with their usual medicines while they are in hospital. If they need to stop a medicine beforehand, their surgeon or doctor will let them know ahead of time.

All of the people we spoke to said that going to hospital is largely straightforward as far as their medicines are concerned, with the possible exception of complementary medicines that they may need to manage themselves.


What to do before going to hospital

We asked doctors what people should do about their medicines if they are going to hospital. Having someone with them, taking all of their medicines and, in particular, having a medicines list were considered most important.

Dr Brendan Beaton, haematologist, explains that it is helpful if patients have a medicines list or if they bring all their medicines and a family member or carer with them.

Going to hospital and having to remember all her medicines was one of the worst things for Lyn about taking multiple medicines. This has been much easier since she started keeping a medicines list.

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Emma has a complex medicines regimen and can become very ill if this is not adhered to. Going to hospital is one of the main reasons why she carries a medicines list.

Niall describes a time when his father (who is on some of the same medicines for the same conditions as Niall) went to hospital and had his medicines and medicines list with him, which was really important and helpful.



Emergency situations can be extremely difficult times for people when they are admitted to hospital. They can be unwell and not themselves and may not have had time to prepare for going to hospital. If patients are taken to hospital straight from their GP’s office, their GP will liaise with the hospital.

Dr Elisabeth Wearne, GP, describes what patients can expect to happen regarding their medicines if they go to hospital in an emergency and what to expect if changes are made to their medicines while they are in hospital.


Seeing a clinical pharmacologist or clinical pharmacist

If there is a problem or a problem is suspected with their medicines that requires specialist expertise, a person may be seen by a clinical pharmacologist (although this is not common). This specialist will work in conjunction with their other doctors and pharmacists to determine the exact nature of the problem, an immediate solution and a long-term plan.

Associate Professor Sarah Hilmer is a clinical pharmacologist who specialises in medicines in older people. She describes what people can expect regarding their medicines when they go to hospital.

Gordon had all of his medicines reviewed when he was in hospital to have a kidney removed and later discussed these changes with his GP. He knows that this was beneficial because of the positive test results he later had.


Going home from hospital

Many of the people we spoke to started new medicines when they were in hospital. Some people received written information on how to take the new medicines, which was extremely helpful.

PT has recently been in hospital for a heart attack. He found the written information that he received on discharge to be most helpful in managing his medicines when he was at home.

Associate Professor Sarah Hilmer, clinical pharmacologist and geriatrician, explains what people need to do with respect to their medicines once they go home from hospital, particularly if their medicines regimen has been altered.

Taking complementary medicines in hospital

People need to tell the doctor they see in hospital that they are taking complementary medicines, such as supplements or preparations dispensed by an alternative practitioner. 

Hospitals vary in how they deal with patients taking their own complementary medicines and in their tolerance towards complementary medicines in general. Some patients may have to stop the complementary medicines, whereas others may find that the nurses chart their complementary medicines and check that they have been taken. However, if there is no reason to do so and it is within the policy of the hospital, they can continue to take them.


What people also talk about


The Living with multiple medicines project was developed in collaboration with

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