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That prescription-drug info from the pharmacy can fall short, study finds

August 09, 2010
  • Don't expect that about-this-drug information to answer all your questions. A new study finds it often falls short.
Don't expect that about-this-drug information to answer all your… (Ken Kwok / Los Angeles Times )

Consumers curious about their medications' effects, side effects or potential interactions should take care before signing on the line indicated -- usually with no explanation -- by the pharmacist. It rarely seems to mean "Yes, I successfully navigated the often-confusing prescription-obtaining and prescription-buying process and am now ready to absorb all the wisdom and warnings that this paid professional has to impart!"

No. The very tiny print next to that "sign here" line usually says something to the effect of: "I am not remotely interested in learning more about this mysterious chemical I'm about to ingest, squirt into or rub onto my body."

Further, counting on the written, and potentially life-saving, consumer information to answer one's questions seems risky. A study published Monday in Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that this latter and legally required type of medical information often comes up short.

Researchers at the University of Florida analyzed the experiences of consumers (so-called consumers, actually, otherwise known as professional shoppers) who were filling prescriptions for the blood-pressure drug lisinopril and the diabetes drug metformin.

In assessments of the written information handed to consumers, the researchers deemed the "directions for use" and "comprehensibility/legibility" aspects particularly lacking.

They wrote: "Many leaflets failed to meet the minimum requirements, such as provision of a complete list of absolute contraindications, and more than half lacked specific directions that would allow patients to manage problems. Because CMI [consumer medical information] was the sole written information dispensed, some patients had no information about the risk of lactic acidosis associated with metformin or related warning signs or action steps. The high reading level required to comprehend the presented information and the inadequate formatting suggest additional shortcomings."

But then, 6% of pharmacies gave those presumably clueless patients no written information of this sort. None.

Here's the abstract of that medication-info study.

And here's information that we hope isn't surprising on lisinopril (it goes under the brand names Prinivl and Zestril) from PubMed Health. Possible side effects include coughing, dizziness, headache, excessive tiredness, nausea, diarrhea, weakness and a decrease in sexual ability. And those aren't even the serious ones.

And, of course, information on metformin (brand names Fortamet, Glucophage, Glumetza and Riomet). Side effects include shakiness, lightheadedness, sweating, nervousness, sudden changes in behavior or mood, headache, numbness or tingling around the mouth, weakness, pale skin, hunger, clumsy and jerky movements. By the way, don't chew or crush the extended-release tablets. (Such information is helpful, yes?) And the list of "tell your doctor or pharmacist" medications is long indeed with this one.

As for what you should expect from a visit to the pharmacy (besides a request for the now ubiquitous membership card), there's this: Pharmacists are a vital, if under-used, part of healthcare.

Julie Donohue, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh, is quoted as saying: "In terms of the number of hours spent studying drug effectiveness, pharmacists are better trained than physicians."

Now if they'd just share that information...

To help them do so -- and to help everyone else get more out of that pharmacy visit --  here's a list of questions that you should pose before taking your medications home.

And here's a look at five of the most-prescribed drugs and their possible risks, side effects and possible interactions.

Plus a snapshot, in graphic form, at the prescription drug market.

Pharmacists may not always offer information as they should, but that doesn't mean consumers shouldn't ask questions. It's our health, not theirs.

-- Tami Dennis / Los Angeles Times

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