Improved medicine information for consumers

When Sally*, a young mother, was prescribed antibiotics for an illness, she began taking them straightaway according to her doctor’s instructions. She had never taken these medicines before, and when she started experiencing a persistent headache and nausea soon afterwards, she wondered if it had anything to do with the antibiotics.

As it was too late in the evening to call her GP practice or pharmacist, Sally googled her medications and came across the relevant Consumer Medicines Information (CMI), which stated that headaches and nausea were indeed possible side effects.

What Sally did not know was that when dispensing her a new medication, the pharmacist should have offered Sally a copy of the CMI or told her where to access one, thus preparing her for any potential negative effects. She then would have had the option of discussing with the doctor or pharmacist if there were any alternate medications she could take instead.

What are CMIs?

A CMI leaflet has information about a medication such as how to take the medicine safely, why it may have been prescribed for you, potential side effects and other medicines it may interact with. It helps you get the best out of your medicine and know what to do if you miss a dose. It will also help you know what to do if you have any side effects. CMIs are available for all prescription medicines, pharmacist-only medicines and some non-prescription medicines.

Where to get a CMI

Although doctors and pharmacists are responsible for advising patients about the benefits and risks of medicines, as in Sally’s case, consumers are often dispensed medication without the CMI which would have provided the detailed information needed for its safe and effective use.

While Sally was able to access the CMI easily on the healthdirect website, consumers who do not have internet access or computer literacy skills would not have been able to find the information they needed.

Currently, CMIs are available on a number of Australian websites, including the TGA website and the MedSearch app.

A more user-friendly format

A survey conducted through CHF’s Australia’s Health Panel in January revealed that while the majority of consumers were not given a CMI, even those who did get them often found them difficult to read and understand. Most survey respondents also believed that provision of CMIs by either a doctor, a pharmacist or both should be mandatory.

Earlier this year, Health Minister Greg Hunt asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to begin a project that ensured CMIs are more easily accessible and easy to understand for consumers.

As part of this project, the TGA has currently developed an improved template for CMIs in consultation with consumer, health professional and pharmaceutical industry representatives.

The existing template used a design from the 90’s and required high levels of health literacy to read and understand – however, the new template is shorter, has a user-friendly layout and features a one-page summary that provides people with the most critical information about their medicine at a glance.

As there are several thousand products marketed in Australia that have CMIs, it may still be some time before consumers begin seeing CMIs in the new format, while pharmaceutical companies adjust and implement the changes across their products.

The TGA will also continue to develop guidance and other resources, including examples of products in the new template and a webinar, to support companies to use the template.

Being informed about your own healthcare

While CMIs provide essential and needed information, they may also emphasise potential harms rather than benefits. There may also be limited information about interactions with other medicines, including complementary medicines.

When you get a new medicine, make sure your pharmacist has included a CMI – however, also remember to ask questions and have conversations with your healthcare professionals to best understand your own healthcare needs, and how new medications may affect you.

 

*Name changed to protect privacy

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Consumers Health Forum