Intended for healthcare professionals


Balancing benefits and harms in health care: Information about benefits and harms should be accessible to patients

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 19 August 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:457
  1. Joanne M Shaw, director, Medicines Partnership Task Force (jshaw{at}
  1. Medicines Partnership, London SE1 7JN

    EDITOR—I agree with Cuervo and Aronson's key point that better information is needed about all the effects of healthcare interventions, both beneficial and harmful.1 However, the article implies that such information, suitably reported, analysed and integrated, should be used to “arm” healthcare professionals so that they can make better decisions for individuals and communities.

    It is equally important to make the information available to interested patients and the general public, remembering that in most cases healthcare professionals are expert advisers but patients ultimately decide whether or not to take the treatment. Many people choose to delegate treatment decisions to doctors, but all patients who want to have a right to the information that informs their healthcare professionals. Therefore, to the authors' list of tasks for people from different disciplines we need to add “making the information available and comprehensible to patients and the public.”


    • Competing interests Medicines Partnership is a Department of Health funded programme to involve patients as partners in prescribing decisions and support them in medicine taking. JMS chairs a multidisciplinary project creating a new structured source of information about medicines for patients and the public.


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