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What’s in a name? Medication terms: what they mean and when to use them
  1. Nicholas Wride1,
  2. Tracy Finch2,
  3. Tim Rapley2,
  4. Tiago Moreira3,
  5. Carl May2,
  6. Scott Fraser1
  1. 1
    Sunderland Eye Infirmary, Sunderland, UK
  2. 2
    Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  3. 3
    School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University, Durham, UK
  1. Mr Scott Fraser, Sunderland Eye Infirmary, Queen Alexandra Road, Sunderland SR2 9HP, UK; s.g.fraser{at}

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To ensure that patients benefit as much as possible from the treatment prescribed to them, we, as physicians, must consider some of the new and novel approaches to medication-taking behaviour. We will present a brief overview of this topic and discuss some of the developments in our understanding. We will also demonstrate how this has been inextricably linked with our use of language. As terminology in this field has evolved, our ability to understand and engage with patients and the medications we prescribe them has shifted, mirroring the fundamental change in the doctor–patient relationship.


Advances in medical therapies increase at an astounding rate, with more diseases than ever amenable to effective treatment. There is, however, a danger that these benefits may not be fully realised as a result of the failure of patients actually to take the medications prescribed for them. It has been estimated that typically up to half of all medications are not taken at all.1 This situation is not new and the growing body of research undertaken in this field (which amounts to very little when compared with the vast quantities on the effects of the actual medications themselves) reveals a number of issues surrounding medication-taking behaviour. At the heart lie critical matters, such as the language and terminology that healthcare practitioners use with patients, the manner and relationship that are fostered between the two parties, and finally, the perspective of the patient who ultimately has to take the medication.

Although we may be stating the obvious, we must point out that unless patients take their prescribed medication appropriately, their overall health will fail to benefit. As clinical evidence grows, the case for treating conditions becomes clearer and stronger. For example, with regard to the treatment of hypertension, the long-term advantages of pharmacological antihypertensive treatments for …

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • All authors contributed to the conception and writing of this paper. All authors read the final version and agreed to publication.