Living with multiple medicines: Speaking with health professionals

Listen to patients taking multiple medicines talk about their experiences when talking to health professional teams.

For the majority of people we spoke to, the most important aspect of managing multiple medicines is that they can talk to their doctors and that their doctors are helpful, supportive and honest with them.


The importance of good communication

Many people place high importance on asking their doctors questions and most are happy with the communication they have with their current health professionals. These people firmly believe that having good communication is a vital aspect in managing their medicines effectively. Most people talk about medicines with their health professionals in the context of the overall management of their conditions.

Glenn had a positive experience with his psychiatrist from the very beginning. This changed the way that he felt about having to manage mental health issues. His current pharmacist also has an important role in providing Glenn with information about his medicines.

The cardiologist took the time to explain to PT the new medication he was prescribed while he was in hospital. This helped PT comes to terms with the way in which Western medicine approached his condition.

The people we spoke to usually just want someone to listen to them, be honest with them, be patient with their questions and acknowledge that their experience is valid. It is important to a number of people that, not only can they talk to their current doctors, but they can also go back to them with further questions on the same issue or more clarification on questions they have asked before.

Karen feels she has been able to ask her neurosurgeon all of her questions because he encouraged her to ask them at her last appointment, despite how busy and behind schedule he was.


Trust in doctors

Some people trust their doctors and do not feel a need to question their advice. Others feel that asking their doctors questions is a part of their responsibility to ‘take control’ of their own health. Some people’s attitude has changed over time from being accepting of what their doctors prescribe them to asking more questions.

Don trusts his GP’s professional knowledge and feels he has been fortunate to have consistent and high-quality medical care with a GP who knows him well.

While Jan believes it is important to pay attention to health professionals, she feels it is ultimately her responsibility to manage her own health.

Mary has started asking her doctors more questions due to an increased awareness of the potential dangers of medicines.


Poor communication and lack of information

Some of the people we spoke to felt that they did not have all the information they needed before they started taking a medicine. One person describes this as ‘learning as I went along, which was not ideal’. Some people describe having to ‘resort’ to the internet. Others felt frustrated when they did not receive the information they were looking for from their doctors, who then would not engage in a discussion about the information they found on their own initiative.

Jane felt she needed more information when she first started taking her medicines. She has found some of the most important information through her own efforts.

Micaela had recently been diagnosed with costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage in the chest area). She had not received enough information from her doctors, which was something she had experienced before. She went to the internet for information, which she then shared with her specialists and GP.

Diana feels that her doctors do not adequately explain her conditions to her, or takes her side effects seriously. This adds to the emotional pain of having chronic conditions.

It can be particularly difficult to maintain adequate communication when people need to see a doctor other than their regular GP, or if they need to see several doctors at the one time. This happened for some people when they were travelling, had just moved to a new area or needed to be admitted to the emergency department where they needed to repeat the same information to many different health professionals.

Karen was staying with her parents when she first injured her back. She found it a real challenge convincing a GP closer to home that she needed prescription painkillers.

Some people told us that most doctors are reluctant to offer information that falls outside of their expertise. While they understand the reasons for this, it sometimes leads to the difficult situation of receiving none of the information they are looking for from any of their doctors. One person we spoke to felt that she did not receive enough information to understand why she had been put onto insulin for her diabetes; she found it helpful to attend a diabetes clinic.

Micaela finds it frustrating when none of the doctors she sees is willing to discuss an issue she is having with her medication.

Lyn found that many doctors relied on pharmacists to give her information about her medicines, which did not always happen.


Changing doctors

Several people have been in the situation where they had a doctor they could not talk to, as they did not share a similar outlook towards their health. These people consequently chose to change doctors. One person we spoke to was relieved that one of her specialists was willing to help her change doctors, as she was due to start home haemodialysis and needed to be fully prepared and comfortable that her doctors were communicating with each other.

Micaela found her specialist dismissive and unwilling to engage in discussion with her. She consequently changed to a new specialist.

Dorothy was treated by a female GP following an accident when her usual GP was on leave. She was initially reluctant to change doctors permanently but she actually found that this was not a problem for the practice or for the doctors involved.


Benefits of good communication

People spoke of the numerous benefits of having good communication with their doctors, understanding the treatment options available to them, reassurance, and understanding how the medicines being prescribed would work for them in their unique situation. One participant cannot take slow-release medication due to having a stoma and colostomy bag, so this is one question she always asks. Many others know about the potential for interactions with their current medicines and are careful to always ask about those.

Judy was reassured by her GP that she was unlikely to develop stomach cancer due to her medicines, which was what her mother-in-law had been told by her doctor.

Lyn was concerned that the treatment prescribed by one doctor did not align with the treatment she received regularly at a hospital outpatient clinic. Talking to the clinic and her specialists reassured her that she was doing the right thing.

Many of the people we spoke to strongly encourage other people to seek out health professionals with whom they can communicate comfortably. The men, especially, all emphasise this as a particular issue for males and feel strongly that communicating with their doctors will be of benefit to many men.

Peter S strongly recommends from his own experience that other men be more communicative with their doctors.


Views of health professionals

All of the health professionals we spoke to reiterated that communication with their patients was extremely important. They welcome their patients’ questions and encourage them and encourage the readers of this website to make their needs known to their health professionals.

Dr Elisabeth Wearne, GP, is always happy to talk to her patients about their concerns regarding their medicines. Some of the discussions include the information her patients find on the internet or hear through the media; and reviewing their medicines to ensure they still need everything they are taking.

Associate Professor Sarah Hilmer, clinical pharmacologist and geriatrician, explains that, while pharmacists have a lot to offer, people really need to see their doctor if they have any questions or concerns about their medicines.

Dr Brendan Beaton, haematologist, encourages people who are taking a number of medicines, or who are having problems with medicines, to talk to their doctor, as there are things they can do to help.


What people also talk about


The Living with multiple medicines project was developed in collaboration with

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