General questions

Last updated: Monday, April 18, 2022

There are some general questions that you may need to ask someone if you are advising them about medicines in any context.

These will depend on the situation. For example, you may ask different questions if you’re speaking to someone you don’t know over the phone in the dispensary, compared to talking to a doctor that you know very well on your ward.

Some of the more important questions you might like to consider are suggested in the infographic below:

The enquirer

  • Who are you? Ask the person's name and what their role is. Do they have a legitimate reason to be asking for your professional help? 
  • How should I contact you? Don't forget to ask for a phone number or e-mail address!
  • How clinically urgent is this? You need to know when an answer is required, and why. Be aware that people's perception of urgency differs. One person may say that a response is 'urgent' because they are just about to go to lunch, another because the patient is sat in front of them and very worried.  

The medicine

  • Which medicine(s) are you concerned about? 
  • What are the doses and indications for each medicine? Some effects of medicines are dose-related so you need to know how much the patient is taking. If you ask about the indication, then you can advise on an alternative if the current medication is not the best choice.
  • Is the patient taking any other medicines? Ask about this, because people will often only tell you about the medicines that they think are a cause for concern. Sometimes they are wrong and the cause of a problem is actually an entirely different medicine - perhaps even an over-counter medicine or a herbal medicine.

The patient

  • Are you asking me a general question, or is this for a specific patient? People may ask you general questions out of curiosity. Find out if there is a real patient at the end of the question so you can gather the further clinical information required.
  • Any relevant medical history? Ask if there any other significant medical problems that you need to know about. With experience, you'll learn that there are certain things that may have significant impact on your answer to certain clinical problems. In some situations you'll particularly want to ask about history of allergy or renal function, for example.
  • What is the patient's age? This can impact on many aspects of an answer such as dose, dosage form, clearance etc. especially at the extremes of age.