Meds info: do GPs outshine pharmacists?


GPs are much more likely than pharmacists to always give verbal advice about new medicines, research from New Zealand shows

PhD student Amber Young from the University of Otago analysed survey responses from 119 pharmacists and 150 GPs and found that neither group of health professionals reported verbally informing patients about new medicines all the time.

However, significantly more GPs (75.3%) than pharmacists (43.7%) reported giving verbal information all of the time.

And ongoing communication and education about medicines appear even less likely when they are prescribed for chronic conditions, Mrs Young found.

An earlier review, undertaken by Mrs Young and co-authors Drs June Tordoff and Alesha Smith, from the University’s School of Pharmacy, and Sharon Leitch from the Department of General Practice and Rural Health, found that patients often want information about their prescribed medicines.

But this later research showed that they are often not given all the specific information they want, Mrs Young found.

She says the research highlights that the use of counselling aids and tools, such as medicine information leaflets, could help healthcare professionals provide patients with the information they need.

Amber Young. Image: University of Otago.
Amber Young. Image: University of Otago.

“A medicines information leaflet, routinely handed out to all patients by both GPs and pharmacists, could ensure patients receive all the information they need to know about certain medications,” Mrs Young says.

Informing patients about their medicines before they start treatment is written into professional standards for both the Medical Council of New Zealand for doctors and the Pharmacy Council of New Zealand, for pharmacists.

“The fact that many respondents indicated they do not orally communicate with patients all of the time highlights the difference between ideal practice and what can be achieved in the real world,” says the research paper, published in the Health Education Journal.

Results from the 2016 survey show GPs are more likely than pharmacists to discuss many counselling points including clinical information like the purpose of the medicine and how it might help the patient’s condition.

While pharmacists are more likely than GPs to advise on practical aspects like how to administer the medicine and medicine formulation, some information may only be provided if requested by the patient.

But neither profession appear to consistently cover all of the counselling points that the evidence suggests patients in general want to know, for both new and repeat medicines.

In particular, Mrs Young says GPs and pharmacists were more likely to discuss the benefits of the medicines than the risks, yet patients are more likely to be concerned about the risks.

The fact that GPs report more frequent verbal counselling than pharmacists for new and long-term medicines may be because GPs have a one-to-one counselling opportunity, the researchers say.

Or, the fact that pharmacy income is based on the number of medications dispensed or sold rather than patient counselling, could impact on communication, they suggest.

“Furthermore, lack of time is of international concern in community pharmacy practice and is often identified as a barrier to provision of services,” the researchers state.

Further research will focus on investigating innovative and more automated ways that patients could receive their medicines information.

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