Drug Inserts as Legal Documents

From the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington:

How many people read the package inserts on their prescription drugs? And how seriously do those who read them take the dire warnings about potential side effects?

courtesy of flickr user Horrgakx

In a session on “Chronic Illness Management and Cognitive Science: Translation Beyond Genes,” at the AAAS meeting, the presenters discussed how clinicians might improve patients’ management of chronic illness by better understanding how patients interpret their conditions. For example, some patients don’t truly believe they have a chronic disease (such as asthma), and consequently they are less likely to take their medications, said Dr. Ethan Halm of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

 A member of the audience who identified himself as a psychologist made another interesting point about adherence and patient attitudes. He said that he has patients who read the drug inserts and decide not to take a medication because they are afraid of the severe side effects. Rather than tell someone about their concerns, they simply skip the medications.

Dr. Halm noted that the drug insert is a legal document, not a medical one. The drug insert has to list any conceivable thing that could possibly happen so that the drug company can cover itself.

Maybe medication adherence could be improved if doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, or someone in the office reminded patients that drug inserts are legal documents, not medical encyclopedias, so they will keep taking their medications for chronic conditions and call if they experience side effects, rather than quit unnecessarily.

–Heidi Splete (on twitter @hsplete)

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