New research shows that drug facts boxes are an effective way to help patients make informed choices about their prescription medications.
Results of a new study by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School reveal that providing patients with a drug facts box improves their knowledge of a prescription drug’s benefits and side effects and helps them to make informed, accurate decisions about their medications.
The drug facts box, inspired by the nutrition facts panel on food products, is designed to give patients an alternative to the fine print in direct-to-consumer advertisements. Currently, the FDA requires manufacturers to list the risks associated with a drug, but not the benefits.
The study asked participants to look at ads for 2 prescription heartburn medications and 2 medications prescribed to prevent cardiovascular events. In both trials, the control group received 2 actual drug ads (including both the front page and brief summary); the drug box group received the same ads, except that the brief summary was replaced by a drug facts box quantifying outcomes with and without the drug.
The results showed that the drug boxes helped patients understand the benefits of particular medications and make better choices. Researchers say this finding has implications for public policy, noting that the FDA has long recognized the need to improve direct-to-consumer ads. The researchers note, however, that “neither the [FDA] guidance nor the legislation addresses the routine provision of efficacy data…and the drug facts box is a viable way to disseminate these data.” Without the data, “most control participants made the wrong choice, but when given the data, most made the right choice.”
“Our studies show that the drug facts box helped consumers appreciate how well drugs work,” the researchers conclude. The study is published in the February 17, 2009, online edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine and can be accessed at www.annals.org/cgi/content/abstract/0000605-200904210-00106v1.
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