Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Drug information too hard to read and understand

To make drug information easier to read, researchers recommend:
• using short, familiar words and short sentences
• using short headings that stand out
• using the largest possible type size
• leaving plenty of white space
• using bullet points to organize lists.

Earlier this year, researchers announced the results of a systematic review of studies examining the usefulness to patients of medication information sheets. The review covered the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and the United States and found that information does not meet the needs of patients. Poor layout and complex language often hinder communication.

The reviewers emphasize that patients want written information in addition to—not instead of—spoken instructions from their health care professionals. Many people would like information that better helps them evaluate potential benefits and harms of a drug treatment. Lead author D.K. Raynor, Ph.D., of the University of Leeds in England says that one key finding was an apparent dichotomy between prescriber and patient views of the fundamental purpose of drug leaflets.

Some providers see increasing treatment compliance as a primary function. In contrast, patients say an informed decision not to take a medicine is also an acceptable result. “Patients see the role of written medical information as guiding them in terms of which medicine is right for them and, if they take the medicine, how best they can use it,” Raynor said. To that end, patients would also like to see more balance between benefit and harm information.

Current drug information focuses too heavily on warnings and adverse effects of the medication, Raynor said. “Patients also need to know how it might benefit them and how likely it is to benefit them.” Exactly how to convey the likelihood of benefits and harms most clearly remains in question. Verbal descriptors like “rare” or “common” are too vague, according to the review.

Yet, more scientific terminology like percentages or “numbers needed to treat” can also confuse the lay public. More research is needed in how best to communicate probability data to consumers, the reviewers say.

To read the full report:
Raynor DK, et al. A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative research on the role and effectiveness of written information available to patients about individual medicines. Health Technology Assessment 11(5), 2007.