To establish the role and value of written information available to patients about individual medicines from the perspective of patients, carers and professionals. To determine how effective this information is in improving patients' knowledge and understanding of treatment and health outcomes.
Electronic databases searched to late 2004, experts in information design, and stakeholder workshops (including patients and patient organisations).
Data from selected studies were tabulated and the results were qualitatively synthesised along with findings from the information design and stakeholder workshop strands.
Most people do not value the written information they receive. They had concerns about the use of complex language and poor visual presentation and in most cases the research showed that the information did not increase knowledge. The research showed that patients valued written information that was tailored to their individual circumstances and illness, and that contained a balance of harm and benefit information. Most patients wanted to know about any adverse effects that could arise. Patients require information to help decision-making about whether to take a medicine or not and (once taking a medicine) with ongoing decisions about the management of the medicine and interpreting symptoms. Patients did not want written information to be a substitute for spoken information from their prescriber. While not everyone wanted written information, those who did wanted sufficient detail to meet their need. Some health professionals thought that written information for patients should be brief and simple, with concerns about providing side-effect information. They saw increasing compliance as a prime function, in contrast to patients who saw an informed decision not to take a medicine as an acceptable outcome.
The combination of a quantitative and qualitative review, an exploration of best practice in information design, plus the input of patients at stakeholder workshops, allowed this review to look at all perspectives. There is a gap between currently provided leaflets and information which patients would value and find more useful. The challenge is to develop methods of provision flexible enough to allow uptake of varying amounts and types of information, depending on needs at different times in an illness. This review has identified a number of areas where future research could be improved in terms of the robustness of its design and conduct, and the use of patient-focused outcomes. The scope for this research includes determining the content, delivery and layout of statutory leaflets that best meet patients' needs, and providing individualised information, which includes both benefit and harm information. In particular, studies of the effectiveness and role and value of Internet-based medicines information are needed.