Confused by medication guides? You're not alone
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The information sheets that come stapled to certain prescriptions picked up at the pharmacy are too complex and difficult for people to understand, according to a new study.
"Anyone who's seen these are not going to be surprised by the fact that they're difficult to read," said Michael Wolf, the study's lead author and an associate professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medication guides are attached to drugs that the agency considers to have "serious and significant public health concerns," according to the report.
Patients are supposed to read the guides before taking the drugs to learn about risks, side effects, potential interactions with other drugs and why the medication should be taken as prescribed.
"You want to make sure that message is effective. Otherwise it can do major harm," Wolf told Reuters Health.
In previous studies, Wolf and his colleagues found several problems with the guides, including patients not understanding their content and - in many cases - not even receiving them along with their medication.
The number of drugs required to be accompanied by a so-called med guide increased from 40 in 2006 to 305 last year. That led the researchers to look into whether the guides had gotten easier to understand.
For the new study, the researchers first analyzed 185 medication guides in April 2010, which represented the majority of those available on the FDA's website at the time.
On average, the guides were about 2,000 words long, none of the guides had a review section or brief summary and only one met "suitability" guidelines frequently used as the standard for medical education materials.
Then, Wolf and his colleagues asked 449 adults at two Chicago clinics to read three medication guides then answer a series of questions about the drugs, including how they should be stored and their possible side effects. The participants were allowed to refer back to the guides during the test and were not rushed to answer the questions.
On average, the participants were only able to correctly answer half of the questions.
In my medical humanities class, I remember discussing that doctors need to convey information in everyday terms when speaking with patients. This article just goes to show that this is a must, and not just for doctors, but for pharmacists, too. The author later comments that, in general, all people had difficulty answering the questions, regardless of education level. This, to me, indicates that the problem might be in the terminology, rather than the syntax or grammar. Perhaps before drugs are introduced to the market, labs should test the instruction manuals as the researchers did in this scenario. Feel free to comment.