Don't worry, i am not here to talk about the meaning of life, the argument between creationists and evolutionists or even the bigger questions like petrol versus diesel cars, or the yet bigger and far more important questions such as should i have my satellite navigation system in a male or female voice
But what I actually wanted to talk about was directions; not the sort my Tom-tom give out, but the sort we (GPs) give out, and in particular, on medication. Ever since I can remember I, like my colleagues, have prescribed paracetamol 1g four to six hourly. But what does 4 to 6 hourly actually mean. Does it mean i should leave alternating lengths of time between doses; if i take my next dose in 4 hours, the following dose should be in 6 hours. Or does it mean i should take an average and leave 5 hours between doses. Does it mean if i don't take the next dose in the two hour window of 4 and 6 hours since the previous dose that i will come to some harm if I were to, say for example, leave 6 hours and 5 minutes between doses.
As we all know, it means none of the above. In fact it doesn't really mean anything does it? Yet we see it all the time. What the instructions should say is take as required – leaving a minimum interval of 4 hours between each dose of 1gram and not taking more than 4grams in any 24 hour period.
Most patients probably just ignore the instructions on medication anyway...or at least they seem to with most medicines
But what happens when we prescribe oramorph in terminal care. All sorts of variations on prescriptions are seen. Some examples are 2.5-5mls 2-4 hourly prn. Some will prescribe 5mg 4-6 hourly. Others will prescribe a more exact dose – but prescribe it hourly. Now i know what I would do when I do the prescribing; But, these sort of vague prescriptions leave patients confused and its hardly surprising. Those of a more cautious disposition will be at risk of under-using and leaving themselves in pain when they could be, quite safely using shorter intervals between doses.
As a locum you see just about every conceivable variation
What's even worse, of course, when all that is written is "as directed" as a direction; most frequently seen for children's medications. Take as directed....directed by whom? The doctor...in which case it should be on the prescription, as directed by the manufacturer? Or just take as the patient feels like self directing? Whenever I see that i simply interpret as the person issuing the prescription was too lazy to look up the dose in the BNF or weigh the child
Anyway i am going to get off my soap box and head home now...as directed by by sat nav. Although if it simply says – at the next roundabout proceed as directed...I will just have to do as I am old. Oh and in case you were wondering what the correct answer to the above conundrum was....it was the first option which is correct. Only a man can read maps and give directions, so i am not about to let a woman's voice come though on the sat nav.