A: The answer is simple: because medicines can harm as well as heal. Questions like ‘have you taken the medicine before’ or ‘what are your symptoms’ may seem intrusive, but pharmacy staff rely on the answers to make sure that the medicine they supply is suitable and safe. Hundreds of thousands of people each year are admitted to hospital due to adverse drug reactions and many more would be harmed without the questioning of pharmacy staff. Pharmacists and their team may ask:
Who is the medicine for?
The pharmacist will need to know if the medicine is for someone who is under 12, pregnant, breast feeding or elderly because they are highly likely to have particular requirements – for example, many medicines aren’t suitable for the under-12s, and some have ingredients that could harm an unborn child or small baby. The elderly are very likely to be taking more than one medicine and some medicines can’t be taken together.
What are the symptoms?
Some more serious conditions can be hidden by symptoms that appear to be for less serious problems. For example meningitis, malaria and some other conditions have similar symptoms to ‘flu, but they can be fatal if they’re not identified early enough.
How long have you had these symptoms?
Usually minor symptoms clear up within a couple of days but if they last longer, keep coming back or, if they seem unusually severe it could be a sign of something more seriously wrong. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you if you need to see your GP or another healthcare professional.
What action has already been taken?
You may already have tried a remedy or seen your GP, and may not have had any relief. The pharmacist will need to find out what you have tried, and what advice you have already been given, if any. They don't want to offer the same product if it has not worked in the first place.
Are you taking any other medication for this or any other reasons?
If you are taking medicines long term, for example to keep your blood pressure down or to ease arthritis pain, it’s easy to forget about it when you’re looking for something to relieve your cold. But it could be important – for example, some medicines for depression can react with decongestants. Other people with stomach ulcers can do a lot more damage if they take something that contains aspirin.