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Medicine information should be tailored to patients’ needs, says research team

27 February 2007

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New research published by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme suggests that most patients do not value the written information provided with prescribed or purchased medicines and feel it doesn’t meet their needs.

It recommends that patients need information that is tailored to them, set in the context of their illness and containing information on both the benefits of the medicine and any side
effects. The researchers also suggest that people who take medicines should be involved in the development of such information, to make sure it meets their needs.

Led by Professor DK Theo Raynor of the University of Leeds, the research team conducted a systematic review of evidence about the role and effectiveness of information provided to patients about individual medicines. They assessed how patients and professionals value such information, the role it plays in using medicines, and compared the effectiveness of different ways of presenting the information, as well as gathering the opinions of experts in the field.

The researchers found that while some professionals believe that the primary purpose of written information is to increase patients’ compliance with instructions for taking a medicine, patients disagree, using the information to help them decide whether or not to take a medicine in the first place, as well as informing them about ongoing medicine management decisions.

The way side effect risk is described has an important impact on the understanding of the likelihood of side effects. Readability of
information, in terms of language and visual presentation, is also very important to patients.

“Our research shows that written information needs to be consistent with spoken information from health professionals, and flexible enough to meet the needs of different patients at different times. To achieve this, we need patient input into what the information says and how it is laid out,” says Professor Raynor. “The findings have been presented to the Commission on Human Medicines’ (CHM’s) Expert Advisory Group on Patient
Information and will be used to help to develop the future development of medicines information.”

“By July 2008, pharmaceutical companies must have taken into account the views of patients for all existing medicines’ leaflets,” says Joanne Rule, chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Patient Information. “Leaflets approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have already begun to include changes highlighted in this excellent report. Our challenge is to let patients know that the leaflets are changing so that they use them and to persuade health professionals to talk about the risks and benefits of medicines.”

The research is published in full in the Health Technology Assessment journal series Vol 11.5. To download the report, visit: