Meaning creates the relationship with medicines.
People form a relationship with each of their medicines through their experience of that medicine. People are always searching for meaning from their experiences. So when they experience a medicine, that is never a neutral event, they ascribe meaning to that experience.
The experience of the taste of a medicine is given meaning by the person taking it. When a medicine tastes unpleasant (a nicely sanitised descriptor, the person will more probably say something like ‘disgusting’) and they struggle to swallow the medicine, then they may interpret that as meaning that their body is rejecting or does not need, the medicine. Too sweet a medicine might be interpreted to mean it is ‘just a sugar pill’.
How the medicine looks is important. Colour matters. The majority of visual information about a medicine relates to its colour. Colour is functional. Colour communicates information. The colour of a medicine is given meaning by the person taking the medicine. That meaning of the medicine’s colours and its packaging is associated with specific effects, these effect go far beyond recognition of a medicine or brand. Patients’ colour-effect associations impact a medicine’s efficacy.
A specific relationships between a person and their medicine is difficult to guess. There are some generalisations that have been found. When medicines are used for conditions of the central nervous system red, yellow, and orange are typically associated with a stimulant effect, while blue and green are related to a calming effect. Colours also affect a person estimation of the strength of the medicine, the speed with which it will work and the expectation of the likelihood to develop side-effect from it. However these are not absolute, relationships with medicines (like all relationships) form over time and are built on many factors.
Once someone realises the experience of a person matter we are most often asked two questions about this. Firstly, “How can you know what meaning a person puts to their medicine”. Secondly, “Is there anything that can be done once a person ascribes a meaning to a medicine”.
In answer to the first, we would normally say, “ask them”. Simple qualitative investigation can provide real depth of insight to how people are thinking about a specific medicine for a specific condition. To the second, we say, “absolutely, yes”. These meanings and therefore these relationships are not fixed, even simple acknowledgement of meaning can starts to change the relationship.