When properly used, medicine can save your life but if used too much or improperly, it can be fatal.
Taiwanese like taking medicine. The frequency of seeing a doctor is higher than that in other developed countries. According to a survey conducted by Chung-ho Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung Medical University, 41.36% people take vitamins or sustenance and 39.53% take medicines due to chronic illness, compared to around 10% in other countries.
Pharmacists play a crucial role in helping people decrease the amount of medicines they take. Pharmacists are much closer than other medical professions to the communities. According to a survey conducted by Chung-ho Memorial Hospital, 45.11% of metropolitan residents and 54.99% of township residents get medicines not needed to cure any illness from their community pharmacies.
To build a healthy community, pharmacists can't just stay in their pharmacies and wait for people to ask questions. They have to go out and step into people's daily lives to help them use medicine properly.
In recent years, many community health programs have been promoted by DOH, among them, safe medication practices. To spread the concept of safe medication, the Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs has identified three tasks: "Medication Survey," "Community Adoption," and "Medication Education."
Chung-ho Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung Medical University is in charge of "Medication Survey."
The National Union of Pharmacists of the Republic of China, Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, Taichung City Pharmacist Association, Ching-kang Foundation for Pharmacy Promotion and the Mennonite Christian Hospital are responsible for "Community Adoption."
The Ching-kang Foundation for Pharmacy Promotion and the Pharmaceutical Society of China Taiwan are responsible for "Medication Education" to promote pharmaceutical education, especially in community colleges and elementary school students.
Medication Survey Program
The "Medication Survey Program" is the first step to understand the different medication habits in three types of communities. The communities are categorized into metropolitan, township and mountainous mommunities.
The survey shows that there are notable differences in terms of the sources of medicines and the illnesses that afflicted these communities. In using medicines that are not needed to cure an illness, 49.6% of residents of metropolitan communities take vitamins or health food and 45.1% of them come from pharmacies. In townships and mountainous communities, 49.2% and 22.4% respectively, of residents take health foods. In townships, 54.99% of medicines are obtained from pharmacies, compared to a relatively lower number of 32.89% in mountainous communities.
The figure means that at the metropolitan and township levels, people should be more cautious of misusing health food. This shows the importance of community pharmacies in spreading better knowledge of medicine use.
As for the mountainous communities, the main problem was lack of adequate facilities to store medicine and the sharing of medicines without consulting a doctor," said Cheng Huei-mei (鄭惠美), a professor at the Department of Health Education, National Taiwan Normal University.
"Most people have incorrect ideas about medicines. This is aggravated by information from the media that sometime make people think that having an injection is better than taking medicines, or that the more expensive the price, the better the medicine and that taking medicine can either cure an illness or strengthen the body without harming it," said Chen Chiung- shiue (陳瓊雪), a community college professor and an important figure in the "Medication Education" program. "These conceptions not only jeopardize the public health but also lead to the waste of medical resources."
After the survey, the DOH assigned Chung-ho Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung Medical University to carry out an education program on the proper use of medicine through lectures in communities.
After the program, there was a remarkable improvement in the recognition of medicines, the timing of stopping using medicines, the care given to pregnant women, the handling of expired medicines, the classification of medicines and the use of medicines during a mother's breast-feeding period.
In 2004, the DOH kicked off the "Community Adoption" program. Twenty communities were adopted that year. In 2005, the communities adopted were expanded to 74.
The importance of community adoption can be seen in the case of the Mennonite Christian Hospital in Hualien. Most residents of that area were indigenous people. Many of them couldn't read Chinese. The medical personnel of Mennonite Christian Hospital who spoke indigenous languages visited their houses to assist and provide them with information.
The institutions that participate in the community adoption program send pharmacists to the houses of community residents to understand how they comply with doctors' orders, how they repeat the use of medicines, their habits of storing medicines and their ways of handling expired medicines.
Pharmacists undergo a transformation from being passive to being more proactive. They used to just sit and wait in the pharmacies to answer patients' questions. But end up asking the questions, and monitoring people's use of medicines. Chang Su- yue (張素月), a pharmacist from Panchiao, says "only by walking into their houses, can pharmacists understand the residents' use of medicines."
Community residents thus understand the importance of having such pharmacists in their communities, bringing each other closer, an important factor in enhancing the quality of pharmaceutical service.
The National Union of Pharmacists of the Republic of China holds courses in order to find out the medication problems of those with chronic illnesses and make the information available to community pharmacists. Then the community pharmacists can visit the patients, understand their habits in taking medicines and give them proper assistance.
The Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science serves as an excellent example of the integration of community and schools. The Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science teaches safe medication practices and extends that education to communities in need. In 2005, the university adopted three communities in Tainan County. They completed a survey on taking medicines in those communities, produced video and audio tapes for broadcast in the local radio and television stations, and established a network among the adopted communities, hospitals and community pharmacies. The university will also soon make home visits and give lectures.
To reach the goal of spreading safe medication practices, the DOH assigned in 2002 the Chin-kang Foundation for Pharmacy Promotion to plan "Medication Education." The DOH also made use of community colleges that have lifetime education programs to achieve that goal.
In 2003, DOH assigned the Pharmaceutical Society of China Taiwan to field the help of Chia Nan University pharmaceutical students in teaching elementary school students the correct use of medicine through what is called the "Sixth-grade Plan." This plan was launched by the former Chief of the Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs Wang Huei- po, (王惠柏) Professor Chen Chiung- shiue (陳瓊雪) and Cheng Huei- wen. (鄭慧文)
By bringing the idea of correct medicine usage to primary school students, the DOH hopes that the children pass the idea on to their parents, thus having yet another channel to reach the grassroots.
In the process, the pharmaceutical students also understand that as future pharmacists they have to deal closely with the people.
"Every time I interact with people, I feel a surge of vitality because helping other people let me understand the meaning of service" said Professor Cheng Chiung- shiue (陳瓊雪).