Reporter 428, 30 November 1998

The drugs might work - but do the leaflets?

The UK's first lectureship in medicine information for patients has been established at the University in the School of Healthcare Studies. Research psychologist Dr Peter Knapp will work with one of the leading research groups in the field, focusing on the decisions that patients make about their medication.

The appointment is timely; from January 1 next year all medicines will have to be accompanied by written information detailing their contents and effects. This information is presently included at the discretion of the drug manufacturers.

There is little evidence about the effect of these written leaflets, which started with the contraceptive pill in the late 1960s, on patients taking their prescribed medicines. "We are anxious to see what impact they have," said Dr Knapp. "Ostensibly it should reassure them but the inclusion of unpleasant-sounding possible side-effects could put some people off."

The Leeds research team is led by Theo Rayner, head of the Division of Academic Pharmacy Practice.

As part of the research, Dr Knapp will look at how effectively the leaflets communicate the relevant information, how many patients even realise that the information is included, and possible alternative forms of delivery. "For example, it may be more effective for the pharmacist to electronically generate the information leaflet at the dispensing counter and physically hand it to the patient whilst emphasising its importance," said Dr Knapp.

The team has also been carrying out a study with the Royal National Institute for the Blind assessing the needs of blind and partially sighted people.

"It is estimated that about half of patients do not take their medicines according to the instructions," said Dr Knapp. "We aim to create better-informed patients that can consider all the available information and then make a more educated choice."

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