Do you talk about OTC meds?

Safe use of OTC medicines requires high-quality spoken and written medicine information – but consumers are often missing out

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Pharmacy, in partnership with the University of Leeds in the UK, conducted interviews with 37 Australian and 39 UK consumers to explore information received during their most recent OTC medicine purchase.

Results revealed the majority of both Australian and UK consumers reported that no spoken information was actively provided when they purchased their most recent OTC product.

However the most difficult challenge for pharmacists is that consumers were not actively seeking spoken information; this was particularly common for repeat purchases.

Assistance or spoken information from pharmacy staff was also declined by a few consumers for repeat purchases.

Consumers tended not to read OTC labels or leaflets if they were familiar with the medicine, and few participants reported reading the label at the point of purchase.

However, when written medicines information was used, this most commonly involved directions for use being read on the label at home.

Other information that was read (on the label, leaflet or both) included medicine strength, indication(s)/purpose, warnings, side effects, if alcohol or other medicines could be used while taking the medicine, storage, ingredients, medicine name/brand, and/or expiry date.

Receipt of spoken OTC medicine information:

  1. “Once they know you’ve used it before, they don’t tend to give you any instructions.”
  2. “They say, ‘Have you taken it before?’, which the answer is yes. Then obviously, they assume that if there’s anything they should say to somebody taking it for the first time, I would already know that so…”
  3. A UK consumer who was taking low-dose aspirin based on doctor’s recommendation: “Because I’ve been told I would have to take it, I didn’t really think there was any need to go into it.”

Perceived role of leaflets:

  1. “I rarely read the leaflets. It’s only if I’m looking for something specific that I’ll read a leaflet.”
  2. “I don’t think it does any harm to have the leaflet because even if you’ve read it before you might not have kept it. So if you have any sort of weird reaction to anything, you can have the leaflet there. I think it’s important to have a leaflet every time because in case you don’t um … you haven’t kept the last one.”

“Facilitation of safe and effective OTC medication use requires availability, access and utilisation of high-quality spoken and written medicine information,” say Vivien Tong and Parisa Aslani from the University of Sydney, and David Ranor from the University of Leeds.

“From the present study findings, repeat OTC purchases in particular seem to be associated with limited spoken information provided by the pharmacy staff and limited consumer information seeking.”

This presents an issue if the consumer didn’t receive enough information during the first purchase.

“Consumers may not always actively seek OTC medicine information from healthcare professionals, such as pharmacists, or in the pharmacy, as seen in both the present study and the literature,” they say.

Leaflets were not commonly reported as a routinely used or desired OTC medicine information source.

However since there is limited compulsory leaflet availability for OTC medicines in Australia, researchers say there may be an increased demand on the label to adequately convey key points.

They say this “heightens the need for OTC labels to be of high usability, in particular for first-time purchases”.

“Key stakeholders such as regulators and the pharmaceutical industry have a responsibility to ensure the provision of high-quality, user-friendly medicine information that is useful for consumers at all points in the treatment continuum,” they suggest.

What is expected of pharmacy staff?

According to PSA Standards for the provision of Pharmacy Only medicines and Pharmacist Only medicines in community pharmacy, consumers are expected to “receive care and advice, appropriate to their presentation and need, that will facilitate the quality use” of these medicines.

Systems are also meant to be in place that assist pharmacy staff to “engage consumers in conversation, gather appropriate and adequate clinical information … [and] respond with appropriate care and advice”.

Advice should include verbal information on:

  • Product use;
  • Side effects;
  • Other treatment advice; and
  • Lifestyle advice.

In addition, pharmacy staff should provide written information where appropriate, as well as follow-on information such as what to do next, says the PSA.

This research was published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice – read the full article here.

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