How comms can help address ‘scary’ medicine leaflets

A recent report from the Academy of Medical Sciences has shown that the information on medicine leaflets detailing possible side-effects, could be putting people off.

Fifty percent of women and 43% of men in England are currently taking prescription drugs, so a huge proportion of the population are exposed to this, potentially unbalanced, information. The benefits of the medicines occupy much less space on the leaflet than potential harms. Fewer than 50% are continuing to take prescription drugs because the information is too confusing so it’s clear that the quality of the in pack information could have serious consequences for the individual and for the health system.

But, is it really surprising? How many times have you opened up a prescription to see a spiel of information on how you may now get ‘insert symptom here’, and not felt a little bit put off?

Bizarrely the benefits of the medicine are as good as ignored. The likelihood of side-effects occurring is rarely explained – instead labelled “possible” or “serious” and it is this lack of information which is making consumers not always trust taking prescribed medicines. Patients should feel confident about the medicines they are taking rather than uneasy.

But, what can be done?

The same report showed that only 37% of the public trusted research-based evidence on medicines, compared to 65% who based their opinions on the experience of friends and family, so can we do more to showcase the benefits of medical science in a way that is familiar to patients?

Academics are calling on GPs  to address necessary conditions, but there could also be an opportunity to work with manufacturers to change the language within these leaflets and help educate consumers on the benefits of each medicine.

However, if there are fundamental issues with people trusting and understanding medicines, there is a real need and opportunity for communications.

Using the knowledge that individuals are more likely to listen to advice from someone familiar, gives us the chance to work with influencers to help reduce confusion about the benefits and harms of medicines – such as fears around statins to prevent cardiovascular disease, HRT for menopause and Tamiflu to treat flu.  And in the process reduce the huge waste of medicines that are prescribed but never taken.