To indicate or not to indicate?

medicine label

Study reveals widespread support for including the indication on scripts and medication labels, but concerns have been raised over workload and privacy

Adding the indication or purpose of the medication to a prescription and then a medicine label could improve adherence and decrease errors, researchers believe.

A series of detailed interviews conducted with pharmacists, prescribers and patients revealed broad support for the concept, but concerns were raised over healthcare provider workload, and over patient privacy.

A team of Australian and Swedish pharmacy and public health academics interviewed seven Australian pharmacists, eight prescribers and 19 consumers.

“All interviewed stakeholders identified numerous benefits of documenting the indication on prescriptions and dispensed medicines labels,” they said.

“Whether these potential benefits can be realised remains unknown and addressing prescribers’ concern regarding the time involved in documenting the indication on prescriptions remains a challenge for vendors of electronic medication management systems”.

In Sweden, as with a number of other European countries, including an indication in lay language is already standard practice.

A retrospective study of prescription errors in Swedish community pharmacies “found that having the indication documented on the prescription helped pharmacists identify and rectify prescription errors”, the authors said.

Most of the Australian pharmacists interviewed said documenting the indication on the dispensed medicine label would be beneficial.

“It helps patients just taking control over their own medications, knowing what they’re taking and why, having that information is power to them,” one pharmacist commented.

Additionally, pharmacists reported it would be beneficial to document the indication on the prescription when the medication has multiple indications or when the medication is being used “off-label”.

Many interviewees felt the indication could act as a safety check for both healthcare professionals and consumers. Pharmacists, in particular, felt it could reduce prescribing and dispensing errors of ‘look-alike, sound-alike’ medications.

“One pharmacist gave the example of allopurinol sounding very similar to haloperidol, which are used for completely different conditions,” the authors said.

However, there were concerns raised, with prescribers expressing concern about the time take to document the indication, as well as concerns over privacy.

“Changing prescribing practices represents a fundamental change hence the potential workflow and practice barriers,” the authors said.

“Particularly, time to document and privacy concerns need to be addressed to fully realise the potential of incorporating indications into prescriptions and dispensed medication labels, although there are likely creative ways these barriers can be effectively overcome”.

The study was published in BMC Health Services Research.

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