If people are to make informed decisions about the medical treatments that best meet their own needs, they must have the skills and knowledge to be able to balance for themselves the benefits and risks, according to a new report.

Patients should be encouraged to raise any questions or concerns about treatments with health professionals - unasked questions and unexpressed concerns often lie at the root of poor health outcomes, says the report and consultation document, which is entitled Finding the Balance and has been produced jointly by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Long-Term Conditions Alliance.

“There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for any condition. Patients need to work with the people prescribing their medication to determine which treatments will work best with their lifestyle,” said the ABPI’s medical director, Dr Richard Tiner.

The paper calls for the concept of the “informed patient” to be made a reality embedded at the heart of medical practice, pointing out that while doctors today are more likely to recognise that informed and involved patients will probably have better outcomes and use National Health Service resources more effectively, the day-to-day demands on clinicians’ time tends to take precedence.

Providing information prescriptions
The report also aims to generate discussions about how other health professionals as well as general practitioners – including hospital consultants and other hospital doctors, nurses and pharmacists – can play a more active role in providing patients with the information they need. It specifically calls for all health sectors to actively support the Department of Health’s Information Prescription pilot project, with a view to it being taken up throughout the UK. This would mean that every patient diagnosed with a medical condition would be equipped to find quality information and local support. “Issues about the information prescription that still need to be resolved should not be allowed to result in loss of momentum or lessening of DH commitment to the project,” the report stresses.

In addition, a “Read Your Patient Information Leaflet” message needs to be widely publicised, particularly at the pharmacy – all the work being done now by the industry, individual companies and at UK and European Union regulatory level to improve PILs will be of limited value unless people realise how important it is to read the leaflet, the study emphasises. It calls for more research to be done into why significant numbers of people still do not take their medicines, and for pharmaceutical companies to create a dedicated section on their websites where all the information available to the public can be accessed easily.

The ABPI and LTCA are calling for comments for their proposals - for the expanded version of this report which they are preparing these must be received by Friday, June 27.