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In January 2019, we asked Australia’s Health Panel about their experiences with the provision of Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflets with their medicines. This was in response to Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt writing to pharmacists and doctors about their responsibilities in this area.

When asked if they were given a CMI leaflet, most panellists reported they hadn’t, with only 8% (n=8) receiving a copy from their doctor and 43% (n=41) from their pharmacist. In addition, 92% (n=88) of panellists reported that their pharmacist had not even told them where they could access CMI for their medicine. Given the responsibilities of health professionals to ensure that patients are appropriately informed about the risks and benefits of their medicines, this low rate of provision of CMIs is concerning.

Overall the panellists broke down into three similarly sized groups:

  • 33% (n= 29) had both a discussion with their doctor/pharmacist and were given a copy of the medicine CMI
  • 31% (n=27) had the discussion with their doctor/pharmacist about their medicine but were not given a copy of the CMI leaflet
  • 36% (n=32) had neither a discussion with their doctor/pharmacist about their medicine nor were provided with a copy of the CMI leaflet.

Amongst those panellists who did access a copy of their medicine CMI, while most (84%, n=69) of them did report to reading the CMI they had mixed experiences with them:

  • 44% (n=44) reported that the CMI was very readable or highly readable
  • 47% (n=47) reported that the CMI was useful

Meaning that less than half of consumers using a medicine were reading the CMI for that medicine and finding it useful for informing. This raises serious concerns about the value of the CMI leaflet to consumers in its current form.

Fortunately, most panellists did report having face to face discussions with a health professional about the nature of their medicine: either with their doctor (20%, n=18), their pharmacist (16%, n=15) or with both (32%, n=30). This is an encouraging finding as the CHF believes that personal conversations with healthcare professionals is the strongest tool for allowing consumers to make informed decisions for their personal healthcare. However, there was a worryingly large minority (33%, n=30) of panellists who did not have a conversation with any health professional about their medicine.

For those panellists who did have a discussion with their doctor or pharmacist about the safe and effective use of their medication, only 52% (n=50) rated the conversation as useful or very useful and a sizeable minority (34%, n=33) rated it as not being useful which was concerning.

The vast majority (91%, n=77) of panellists believed that the provision of CMIs should be required:

  • 14% (n=12) believed that Doctors/GPs should be required to provide the CMI when prescribing a medicine
  • 25% (n=21) believed that pharmacists should be required to provide the CMI when dispensing a medicine
  • 52% (n=44) believed that both doctors/GPs and pharmacists should be required to provide the CMI.

Interestingly, panellists reported that CMIs should be made available in multiple different formats. 82% (n=69) wanted CMIs provided as a physical item e.g. a printed leaflet, 36% (n=30) wanted them provided in an electronic format e.g. an email or text message and 36% (n=30) wanted an online copy e.g. a website. This diversity reflects the differing needs of consumers and highlights that no ‘one size fits all’ format should be relied on.

However, there is clearly a strong desire for a physical copy to be an option indicating the current practice of health professionals referring consumers to websites that host CMIs is not in alignment with consumer needs.

In summary, consumer experience with Consumer Medicine Information leaflets highlight that there is a strong need for improvement. CMIs are not routinely provided to consumers and when used they are of mixed value in their current form. Consumers find face to face discussions with their health professional more useful but a concerningly large minority of consumers do not have these discussions. There is a strong desire amongst consumers for the provision of CMI leaflets to be mandatory, with an emphasis on a physical printed copy being available.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia would like to thank all panellists for kindly giving their time to participate in this survey. Any questions about this survey and its findings can be directed to info@chf.org.au.

Note: as each question in the survey was optional the number of responses for each question varied across the survey. This is why the ‘n’ for each set of answers may not add up to the same total number of responses for each question.

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