News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Consumers' Association calls for better information for patients

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 08 February 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:302
  1. Lynn Eaton
  1. London

    Primary care trusts need to appoint information brokers to help explain a patient's condition to them, rather than expect hard pressed GPs to be able to spend time doing so, says the Consumers' Association.

    The proposal is one of a series of suggestions in a report published this week that outlines research into the changing needs of a public that is increasingly well informed about health issues.

    “Some health professionals can find this quite a challenge, not least when time is limited,” said Wendy Garlick, principal policy adviser with the association and author of the report. “It must be quite a threat to them when patients come in armed with journal articles they have just downloaded from the internet.”

    The information brokers, first mooted by the Picker Institute, would help steer patients through the information available on their condition and supplement the advice and support that might be offered by the GP, practice nurse, or social worker.

    But even with this initiative, doctors still need training in communicating more effectively with patients, says the report. “There needs to be a retraining of doctors to prepare them for what they are likely to face,” argue Michelle Childs, head of policy with the association. “It's not enough just to be able to tell people what is wrong with them. It's for the benefit of the doctors too. If patients don't understand what they are being given, it is going to undermine the clinical approach the health care professional is taking.”

    The research looked in detail at the information already available for patients and concluded that, as patients are being encouraged to take more care of their health, they need to have appropriate information to do that.

    The association also wants to see the establishment of a single central and impartial source of information on medicines and treatment—although it has suggested that this might be partly funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

    Ms Childs acknowledged that some onlookers might be sceptical about whether a body that was part funded by the pharmaceutical industry could be impartial about treatment options.

    “But they [the industry] say they believe in better information to patients. We are saying, if you do believe that, you can better spend your marketing money on information where there is a clinical need,” she said, adding: “It's not assumed the drug companies would control how that information was put together. We fully recognise the concerns about having that control.”

    The association also wants to see standardised kite marking of information leaflets; education in schools about medicines so young people develop the skills for shared decision making in health care; and the introduction of “gold standard,” consumer tested patient information leaflets inside drug packets, similar to the arrangements already in place in Australia.

    Patient Information: What's the Prognosis? is available, price £20, by phoning 0800 252100 or a summary is available at

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