Patients have a legitimate need for, and right to, information about diseases, therapeutic strategies and medicinal products. There is widespread agreement among EU institutions and the public that communications with patients and the public about prescription medicines should be improved with the objective of having better informed patients, so they can make sensible choices about their treatment.
Patients are being provided with increasing amounts of information from different parties with various objectives and sent through multiple channels, particularly on the internet. This information is of varying quality and accuracy. Ironically the manufacturers of medicines are largely restricted from providing information to patients whilst anyone else it seems is free to do so. Would it not be better for patients to get good quality information, in a well-regulated way, from the actual source of their treatments?
The pharmaceutical industry firmly believes that better informed patients will lead to safer and more successful health outcomes, a more efficient use of healthcare resources and ultimately, to healthier societies.
It is clear that no single source can provide all the available information but pharmaceutical companies have a wealth of knowledge and information to share about health and medicines having researched and developed their products over a long period (10-12 years per approved product). The pharmaceutical industry is not advocating US style Direct-to-Consumer-Advertising as an appropriate model for Europe; rather it believes that it should be enabled, along with a range of other sources, to supply non-promotional, high quality disease and health related information to EU citizens.
Taking the initiative in Ireland
There are examples of excellent educational activities produced or supported by pharmaceutical companies in Ireland.
The obvious example is disease awareness activities, which broadly encourage patients to seek medical help for conditions, which they thought were untreatable, are subject to stigma or taboo (e.g. sexually transmissible diseases) or simply too “embarrassing” (e.g. incontinence).
Pharmaceutical companies also produce materials solely for distribution after their medicine has been prescribed. These help patients to use their medicines correctly in a variety of ways; for example, by explaining simply what the condition is, what the medicine does and the importance of using it properly, by providing advice and aids on self-administration techniques where, e.g. eye drops, are involved, by providing memory aids for dose timing and by providing self-help advice and support.
www.medicines.ie provides independent, regulatory authority approved information on over 2,000 medicines currently on the market. The information on the website is provided free of charge to all GPs, Consultants, community & hospital pharmacists and nursing home in the country. It allows the user to learn more about the correct use of medicines – e.g. what the possible side effects of any medication might be and how a particular medicine might interact with another.
It is an accompaniment to the IPHA website www.medicines.ie which provides up to the minute information on prescription and ‘over-the-counter’ medicines. These materials support health professionals’ work and help to ensure the safe and effective use of medicines.