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Almost four out of five Australians (78%) report that they look for information about medicines on the internet, according to a new 2016 survey* released during Be Medicinewise Week (22-28 August).

Three out of five people (58%) admitted they will sometimes or always look up information about health conditions on the internet to avoid going to see a health professional—with this number increasing to almost four in five people (79%) in the younger age category of 18-34 year olds.

This compares to only 1 in 3 people who said in a 2012 NPS MedicineWise survey** that they were likely to search the internet for information about their symptoms before they visited their doctor.

NPS MedicineWise spokesperson and pharmacist Aine Heaney says that finding good medicines information is important, and that being medicinewise means asking questions, asking the right people, and knowing how to source reliable information.

“Having the right information will help you to get the most out of your medicines—and to make better health choices for you and those you care for,” says Ms Heaney.

“If you or a loved one become ill, are prescribed a medicine or are referred for a medical test, it’s natural to want to know more about the condition or treatment. However, while it is always a good idea to equip yourself with health-related information, it is important to be aware that not all health information you access on the internet will be accurate or reliable. Some might be full of medical jargon and not have plain language statements to explain the information clearly.”

“You need to be able to assess the reliability of information found on the internet, and understand limitations of what internet can tell you.”

“Take charge of your health and your medicines, and work with your health professionals, such as a doctor, nurse or pharmacist, to better understand your health and any medicines, tests and treatments you might need,” says Ms Heaney.

“In addition to your regular health professional, there are services available like NPS Medicines Line (1300 633 424) where you can phone to seek individual medicines information from a health professional, and the weekly Pharmacist Hour on the NPS MedicineWise Facebook page.

“Of course, the health professionals that care for you are a reliable source of health information, but you may not always be able to talk to them. This means you need to play an active role in your health by knowing where to find information about health conditions, medicines, tests and treatments,” she says.

NPS MedicineWise and Better Health Channel are good places to start when seeking medicines information online because they are independent and credible websites designed to support you to find information on health conditions and medicines, and are free from commercial advertising or corporate sponsorship.

Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflets are available for all prescription medicines and many non-prescription medicines. The leaflets explain how the medicine works, as well as giving practical advice on how and when to take it, common side effects and potential interactions with other medicines.

CMIs are available on websites such as NPS MedicineWise or the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), or you can ask your pharmacist to print it out for you.

“CMIs are a good tool to use as a starting point for understanding your medicine, but if the leaflet for your medicine raises more questions than it gives answers, make sure you speak with a health professional to help put that information into context for you and your situation,” says Ms Heaney.

The survey also showed that one in five Australians (20%) said they would use Facebook to try to find answers to questions they have about medicines.

"Everyone has a unique story about how medicines work, and there is plenty of moral support to be found on social media and online forums, but one person's experience won't necessarily be the same as yours,” says Ms Heaney.

“The final decision about what medicine to take should lie with you and your prescriber or other health professional, using personalised advice for your situation.”

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a pharmacist, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).

*The 2016 survey of 1,007 Australian respondents aged 18 and over was conducted online by Galaxy Research in July and August 2016. Full survey results are available upon request.

**The 2012 survey of 1,205 Australian respondents aged 18 and over was conducted by telephone by Newspoll in March 2012.


Looking for medicines information online

People most often look for information on the internet when:

  • they have a question and the doctor or pharmacy is closed (40%)
  • if they are looking for a solution to a health problem (28%), or
  • every time they are prescribed a medicine or are considering taking a new medicine (24%).

Confusion when starting a new medicine

Nearly four in ten Australians (38%) have experienced some confusion when starting a new medicine. The top four reasons for confusion when starting a new medicine:

  • the information leaflet (CMI) not being included with the medicine or not being offered to them by their pharmacist (13% of all respondents)
  • the information leaflet was too hard to understand (12%)
  • not clear on the benefits or exactly why they should take the medicine that has been suggested or prescribed (10%)
  • not feeling that the doctor who prescribed the medicine explained why or how to take it (10%)


Be Medicinewise Week is an initiative of NPS MedicineWise and is on from 22-28 August 2016. This year is the sixth annual Be Medicinewise Week, a national awareness week promoting the safer and wiser use of medicines by all Australians.

‘Take Charge!’ is this year’s theme and encourages Australians to have conversations with health professionals about their health to get the most out of their prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines, and to seek out evidence-based information to help them make better decisions about their health.

The 2016 campaign is encouraging people to:

  • Ask the right questions
  • Ask the right people
  • Follow the right advice.

To find out more and to download our campaign toolkit and other resources please go to www.nps.org.au/bmw2016


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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