Keeping alert matters

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Pharmacists could do more to educate consumers on the risks of medicines that impair alertness

A series of detailed interviews with community pharmacists shows that many in the profession believe pharmacists should provide more tailored, targeted advice, but possibly don’t always do so due to time, regulatory and consumer perception issues, among others.

The study, conducted by Australian and UK pharmacy and sleep academics examined pharmacists’ perceptions and communication of risk for alertness impairing medications.

These could include sedatives, antidepressants and antipsychotics, but could also include other medications that indirectly affect alertness via their blood pressure/glucose lowering effects, such as anti-hypertensives and anti-diabetic agents.       

Medication-related risk communication is a complex clinical phenomenon dictated by patients’ prior experiences and the pharmacists’ practice environment, the authors said, with participating pharmacists “generally aware of the therapeutic classes associated with medication-related risks but concerned about patients’ level of understanding.”

Among the points highlighted by the authors were:

  • The participants mainly conveyed their concerns in relation to the risks associated with driving a motor vehicle under the influence of AIMs and they often did not elaborate upon other activities that may be compromised (e.g. working with machinery/tools or leisure activities such as swimming etc.)
  • Participants considered that consumers were influenced into taking AIMs from a number of sources including friends, family and from the Internet. These sources were viewed to skew the expectations of consumers when requesting an AIM. They suggested that consumers believe that these medications ‘solve’ a number of their ailments, whilst underestimating possible risks, specifically regarding non-prescription/OTC products
  • Most participants exhibited a “strong faith” in the current regulations and practice standards surrounding the provision of AIMs, however application was considered difficult suggesting that certain aspects of community practice make them incommodious. The main issues raised were related to time and the busy work environment that prevented them from providing consumers with the necessary information required to ensure the safe use of medications.
  • Participants unanimously stressed the importance of drawing the consumers attention to the warning labels whilst counselling. Some felt the contents of labels should be more detailed, others they should be simplified into a more succinct and comprehensible message. Suggestions for the current label included: increased font size, the addition of graphics and highlighting/bolding certain words to emphasise their importance.
  • Some participants considered the current labels efficient but others even recommended customised labels for certain medications to accommodate for the variability in drug side effects between classes.

The study was published in the journal Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy

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