GPs need more time with patients to explain medication

GPs need longer appointments with patients so they can better explain the benefits of medicines, a report has warned, after finding that most patients do not trust medical research.

Prescription (Photo: JH Lancy)
Prescription (Photo: JH Lancy)

Just 37% of the public say they trust research-based evidence on medicines, compared to two thirds (65%) who base their opinions on the experiences of friends and family, according to a report from the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Patients are often confused about information on medicines, and the lack of trust in research can lead to ‘significant difficulties’ in convincing patients of the benefits of drugs, the report found.

Information leaflets found in medicine packets are considered to be ‘impenetrable’ and give too much prominence to negative side effects ‘hindering informed decisions about medicines’, it said.

The report, based on findings from a survey of over 1,000 GPs and 2,000 UK patients – in addition to workshops and evidence from expert groups – called for reform of medicine leaflets to give a clearer and more balanced summary of potential benefits and harms.

It also called for longer appointments to help GPs explain treatments to patients, and says that NHS Choices should be grown into an improved, one-stop source for ‘accurate, up-to-date, evidence-based information about medicines’ online.


Implementing the changes could help avoid future confusion about the benefits and harms of medicines, the report added – such as fears in the past around statins to prevent cardiovascular disease, HRT to treat the menopause and Tamiflu to treat flu.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We know that information about health can be a minefield for patients, particularly given how rapidly this information can change, and the massive volume of potentially contradictory information available to patients online.

‘We welcome patients becoming more involved in making informed decisions about their health and treatment plan, as recommended in this report.

‘However, GPs are delivering care to over 1m patients every day, within the constraints of the standard 10-minute consultation, which is increasingly unfit for purpose, and does not lend itself to the type of in-depth conversations necessary to explain what are often complicated health matters.

‘Ultimately, we need the government to implement the pledges in NHS England’s GP Forward View as a matter of urgency, including £2.4bn extra a year and 5,000 additional GPs and 5,000 practice team members, so that patients can be given more time with their family doctor to ensure they get the care they need.’

CMO Professor Dame Sally Davies said: ‘Medical science is progressing at an unprecedented rate, opening up opportunities not only to cure certain diseases, but potentially to prevent them from ever occurring. Yet it is vital that we find the best possible ways to use and communicate scientific evidence, so that progress may be translated into benefits for patients.’

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