Pharmacists Overestimate Patients' Understanding of Medical Terms

Pharmacists gauge patients' recognition of medical terms higher than doctors do.

Pharmacists overestimate patients’ understanding and recognition of medical terms more than doctors, according to a report published online September 3, 2014, in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine.

For their study, researchers from the Japanese Society for Hygiene recruited 211 doctors and a subgroup of 212 pharmacists. The investigators collected data on the participants’ age, gender, location and scale of workplace, experience of communicating directly with patients, and experience with participation in clinical trials.

The goal of the study was to examine patients’ recognition of 90 medical terms—57 from the National Institute for Japanese Language and 33 additional ones—as estimated by pharmacists and doctors.

The medical language was further classified into 5 groups. Group A was “expressed in other words of vernacular speech and included 13 medical terms, such as ileus, evidence, and remission,” the authors explained.

Group B was divided into the following subgroups: B1 “had to explain the correct meaning to patients” and included 15 terms, such as insulin, virus, and inflammation; B2 was “understood roughly but required more explanation to provide a reliable meaning” and included 17 terms, such as malignant tumor, congestion, and depression; B3 was understood well but needed further clarification to avoid confusion, and it included the terms of complications, shock, and anemia.

The C group was broken down into 3 subgroups that explained important, new concepts, such as informed consent, second opinion, guidelines, clinical pass, quality of life, palliative care, primary care, MRI, and PET.

Group D targeted 7 medical terms used primarily in clinical trials, while 26 medical terms related to adverse effects were included in group E.

In the study, the doctors and pharmacists ranked each medical term on a 1-5 rubric scale that ranged from “I do not think that patients know” to “I think that patients know.”

According to the researchers, the pharmacists tended to estimate patients’ recognition levels higher than the doctors for all 13 terms in group A, most terms in group B — 6 out of 15 in B1, 9 out of 17 in B2, and 2 out of 3 in B3 – and all terms in group C, with the exception of MRI. The investigators recorded similar results concerning the pharmacists’ estimates for medical terms in groups D and E.

“We think, recently, pharmacists are requested to explain the information of drug to a patient rigorously and vigorously. But, even now, they do not have enough chance to check whether a patient’s recognition is appropriate or not,” the authors wrote. “Given that one of the most important duties of a pharmacist is to provide information and counseling on the drug when it is dispensed, pharmacists need to be aware that patients’ recognition level is likely to be much lower than what they perceive.”