Generic Medicines and the elderly patient – an accident just waiting to happen.

Even though generic medicines save money for many patients (and governments!), taking generic medicines with assorted colours, shapes and different sounding names can often confuse patients and lead to accidental overdose.

This is one of the biggest problem elderly people have with their medicines, and the most frequent problem that I find when doing Home Medicine Reviews.

Here is a good example;

A doctor requested a Home Medicines Review for an elderly man because he mentioned that he was confused about the different generic brands that he receives when filling his scripts at the local chemist. As it turned out, he was taking both “pravachol” and “cholstat” to lower cholesterol – two brands of the same drug “Pravastatin”.

In other words, the patient was taking double the normal dose because he thought these different names were different medicines!

Which leads me to my first point – all scripts dispensed in Australia today should only use the drug name, and nothing else.

In this way, the patient will get to know the name of one drug and not the name of many brands of the same drug.

Another way to make it is easier for elderly people is for the generic medicine label to have the drug name first and then the brand name second.

For example;

There is no doubt that eye-sight, language, literacy and memory problems can make generic medicines a confusing thing for many elderly people.

However, there are some steps that people can take to reduce confusion with the many assorted brands of generic medicines available nowadays;

  1. Ask the chemist to keep the same brand for you all the time or get to know two brands of the same medicine only, as there may be up to ten assorted brands available!
  2. Ask the chemist to help you with the name of the medicine by using the generic name always.
  3. But if you change brands, you can ask the chemist to write the names of both brands on the medicine label – for example, words like “Cholstat is the same as Pravachol” or “Cholstat replaces Pravachol” – then you will know which two packets of medicines are the same or do the same thing.
  4. Keep spare packets of the same medicines separate to the packet of medicine you have opened and are using now.
  5. Write on the packet  in big print, the name of the medicine and what it is used for – for example, Cholstat for CHOLESTEROL or Pravachol for CHOLESTEROL.
  6. Use weekly pill boxes or blister packing, once a week to help sort out the daily medicine routine – your pharmacy may be able to organise this for you!

In the end, if you are still getting confused with generic medicines, ask for a Home Medicines Review and a consultant pharmacist might just prevent a medication error from happening with generic medicines.

Emmanuel Pippos, Consultant Pharmacist


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Do you need a home medicines review? It’s very simple!

Remember - The Home Medicine Review is bulk billed through Medicare - it’s free to you.


1. Download and print the form.
2. Tick the boxes that you think may affect you.
3. Then make an appointment with your doctor.


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