A bit of a dangerous trend is going on around the country, perhaps spurred on by overworked doctors, waiting rooms filled to the rafters, and long-held habits. A new study shows that family practitioners take out their pen, jot down a prescription on a pad of paper, give it to the patient, and that often concludes all doctor-patient interaction. Many doctors, maybe because they don’t feel they have the time, leave out some rather important tidbits of information about the prescriptions they are handing out.
— What is the drug’s name? — What are its common side effects? — What are its rare side effects? — When is it taken — with food, at night, in the morning? — How many pills are taken a day? — What does the drug do, exactly? How does it work?
Without basic questions such as these being addressed in the doctor’s office, it leaves patients responsible for taking the drug correctly, learning side effects, and understanding how it works. And when patients need to pore over the fine print that accompanies every prescription drug, it is often not terribly effective. That might make them turn to the Internet, which can be misleading, as information is not always accurate and drugs must be researched carefully, lest false or misleading information be accepted.
In any event, let’s get to the study. Researchers taped 45 doctors during more than 900 patient visits. They narrowed the numbers down to nearly 200 of those visits where the drug being prescribed had never before been taken by the patient. The patients were, on average, 55 years old, split equally into groups by gender. The researchers found the following statistics, which, as you can see, get increasingly more striking as you read on:
— 87% of doctors explained the drug’s purpose. — 74% said what the drug’s name was. — 58% mentioned the frequency and timing of doses — in other words, how to take the drug. — 35% described side effects. — 34% told patients how long they would have to take the drug for.
The researchers believe these figures demonstrate the kind of things that are going wrong in clinical practices. Patients are not getting the information they need in order for a drug to work effectively for them. One thing we know about prescription drugs is that there is a declining number of patients who take them as they are supposed to. Well, if they aren’t told how long they need to take a drug (such as a cholesterol-lowering medication, which needs to be taken for many, many years), then there is a chance they won’t refill that prescription.
From a patient’s perspective, reading the literature on a drug — that rolled-up piece of paper with the tiny fine print — becomes critical. As we can see, you can’t always rely on your doctor telling you what you need to know.