Exclusive: One in two prescription drug leaflets goes unread

Medicine leaflets make you sick with worry? Health Ministry prescribes new wording.

pills 88 (photo credit: )
pills 88
(photo credit: )
Do you read the information leaflet folded into the package of prescription medication before popping the pill in your mouth? If you're a typical Israeli, there is only a one-in-two chance that you do - even though knowing the possible side effects and contraindications is important. The Health Ministry pharmacy division official in charge of drug licensing, Rahel Gutman, said her office had appointed a multidisciplinary committee to look into changing the wording of drug information leaflets. "We are aware of the fact that information leaflets are not ideal," she told The Jerusalem Post. Half of all Israelis fail to read the leaflets, and nearly 30 percent said that after reading them, they felt anxious and were less likely to take the drug as prescribed, according to a study performed by Dr. Shlomo Vinker and colleagues at Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine and the Rabin Medical Center, published in the latest issue of IMAJ (the Israel Medical Association Journal). The researchers studied 200 patients of 15 family physicians. "Our committee, which includes pharmacists from the ministry and the pharmaceutical companies, and other experts, will meet soon," Gutman said, adding that it would consider whether it would be better to exclude information about some rare potential side effects that apparently scare off users. The writing on the pamphlets will have to remain small, she said, so they can fit into small packages. As it is, all leaflets must appear in Hebrew, Arabic and English, and medications that are sold outside pharmacies (at gasoline stations, supermarkets and other commercial outlets) must also be translated into Russian (but not into Amharic for Ethiopian immigrants). Past studies showed a higher proportion of patients reading the leaflets than today, and that the current reading rate is lower than in most Western countries. The degree of anxiety caused by reading drug information leaflets is important because it deters patients from taking medications as often and as long as prescribed. Patients were more likely to read the leaflets if the drugs were for a chronic condition than for an acute condition, and patients with more education had a higher rate of reading them.