The Pharmaceutical Information & Pharmacovigilance Association (PIPA) has released a guidance document, ‘Responding to Patient Enquiries’, to tackle the trend of patients becoming increasingly aware of, and involved in, their own medical care.

The guidance addresses the fact that medical information (MI) teams are receiving a growing number of enquiries from patients who have an in-depth understanding of their condition or treatment, referred to as “expert” or “informed patients”.

The company created the guidance to help MI departments provide informative and helpful responses to patient enquiries that provide meaningful information to patients without either contravening the Code of Practice or interfering with the “important” patient-doctor relationship.

The guidance was formed after PIPA found that information provided in response to patient enquiries varied significantly between companies, and that guidance in the area would be welcome.

All responses to enquiries originating from patients must conform with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Code of Practice - specifically clause 26 - which in the past has meant that pharmaceutical companies gave little or no information in answer to such enquiries, which can no longer fly with the more educated patients.

The document details the difference between a patient with a high level of scientific understanding around their medicine, disease or therapy area and one with a low level of scientific knowledge in that area, before going on to give examples of appropriate responses for each level of patient.

The organisation also advises that MI professionals use their professional judgement when selecting which sources of information would be appropriate for the enquirer they are dealing with, as some patients will have a high level of scientific knowledge and understanding about their medical condition or the medicine they have been prescribed, while others will have relatively little knowledge.

Differentiating an “informed” patient and a lower level understanding patient lies in awareness of the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL), the Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC) and the confidence with which the patient uses scientific or medical terms, the guidance states.