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Digital Pharma: Online medical information influences treatment

pharmafile | May 5, 2010 | News story | Medical Communications, Sales and Marketing Datapharm, digital patients, patient information 

More than half of health searches in the UK result in treatment or management changes, according to new research by Datapharm.

A survey of 630 people, either taking medicines or caring for those who are, found almost a quarter changed treatment and over a third changed the management of their condition after going online.

Datapharm’s chief executive Lawrence Berry said: “What this indicates is that the information people find on the internet is very influential on their medicine taking behaviour.

“The traditional idea of the doctor/prescriber deciding what medicines people take is outdated. Patients are playing an increasingly important role and the pharmaceutical industry needs to embrace the patient as part of the decision making process.”

The survey, which was undertaken over the six months to April 2010, also found that 55% of respondents wanted more information about the medicine they were taking.

The main sources of medicines information for those surveyed were:

• Patient information leaflet (PIL) – 63%

• Doctors – 60%

• Online search, e.g. Google, either exclusively or to a large extent – 51%

• eMC Medicines Guides or NHS Choices – 28%

• Pharmaceutical company website – 11%

Two-thirds of those respondents searching for health information online subsequently discussed the management of their condition with a healthcare professional.

One survey participant commented: “I found out about anti-TNF drugs by looking them up on the internet. I was not offered these until I mentioned it myself to the rheumatologist.”

The survey also revealed that some of the most sought-after information is not in the PIL, Datapharm said.

More than three quarters of people wanted to know if a medicine was right for them, or about how to cope with side effects – both areas that cannot be dealt with in the patient leaflet.

“This tells us that although the PIL contains a lot of information, it needs to be complemented with other sources to better meet people’s information needs,” said Berry.

The survey group was self-selecting – 91% were medicine takers, more than half of whom respondents had lived with their condition for three years or more, and 9% carers.

Datapharm, which produces online medicines information resources, partnered with UK voluntary health organisations such as Macmillan Cancer Support, Diabetes UK and Parkinson’s UK, who publicised the survey to their members and service users.

Melinda Letts, chair of Parkinson’s UK and a founding director of Ask About Medicines, said: “If people start taking a medicine that is wrong for them, or that they don’t understand properly, they often stop taking it.

“If people have good information about medicines, they can have informed conversations with their doctor, nurse or pharmacist and this will help ensure that they get the most out of any medicines they decide to use.”

Datapharm conducted the survey to coincide with a redesign of its eMC Medicines Guides website, which is aimed at medicines users, carers and the general public and contains information for more than 2,700 medicines.

Not-for-profit company Datapharm is funded by over 160 pharmaceutical company members and is used by NHS Choices as its medicine information resource.

Meanwhile, the MHRA’s consultation on its plans to put its database of PILs and Summaries of Product Characteristics (SPCs) online closed in March.

You can review the comments the UK regulator received here and obtain more information on the discussion from the MHRA’s public and patient engagement manager Susan Frade.

Dominic Tyer is web editor for Pharmafocus and and the author of the Digital Pharma blog He can be contacted via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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