BETHESDA, MD–Today’s consumer “is probably the most important member of the health team because the consumer will decide if, how and when to take a medication after it has been prescribed,” said Dr. Dorothy L. Smith, President of Consumer Health Information Corporation. In fact, she said, this decision-making power “is one of the most complicated problems confronting our health care system.”

Speaking at a March 27th conference sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF), Dr. Smith addressed the theme, “Don’t Point Fingers–Safe Medical Treatments: Everyone Has A Role.” She noted, “Without adequate patient information, consumers are going to make serious home medication errors. With adequate information, consumers are going to manage their medications safely…and the health care system will work.”

Consumers are capable of making wise decisions about their medications, but they need to be well-informed about the risks associated with taking a medication, Dr. Smith said. The problem is that “too many people are trying to manage their drug therapies without sufficient information and guidance.” The result, she said, is that “50% of all prescription drugs are not being taken correctly and people are suffering needlessly from the treatments which are supposed to help them.”

“Patients are being admitted to the hospital today because they have not been told how to manage adverse effects of their medications,” Dr. Smith said. “I believe that more people are dying from home medication errors than the 96,000 deaths recently reported due to medication errors in hospitals.” However, she went on, “we know that patient education works. Research shows that home medication errors fall dramatically (up to 50%) and people have fewer side effects, fewer doctor visits, fewer hospital admissions … and a higher quality of life when patients are given the information they need to take a drug safely.”

This has become a public health issue because we now spend as much money to treat the complications of home medication errors as we do to purchase all the medications in this country, Dr. Smith pointed out. The cost of home medication errors actually soars past $180 billion a year when we include the costs to an employer for such things as absenteeism and on-the-job injuries.

The way to make the system work, said Dr. Smith, is to include patients “as important members of the ‘medication management team.’ Patients need the information explained to them in person–not just handed a sheet of written instructions…We also need to recognize that doctors and pharmacists have serious time restrictions and do not have time to counsel every patient because of reimbursement problems in the ‘system.’ They need high-quality patient counseling tools that will help them counsel patients in a minimum amount of time.”

The starting point for many of the patient education programs developed by Consumer Health Information Corporation is the Patient Package Insert (PPI)–a short medication instruction sheet written in language the average consumer can understand, she said. “One message that consumers need to hear is that they can trust thepatient information in a PPI. In fact, it is probably the most accurate patient information available for a specific drug and has been reviewed for clinical accuracy and fair balance by FDA… More than once I’ve wondered if it might be a valuable service to consumers if FDA were to allow pharmaceutical companies to prominently note on the PPI that the information has been reviewed by FDA and approved as accurate.”

“Every person involved in the delivery of drug therapy is trying to do their best,” Dr. Smith said. Unfortunately, each part of the health care system has its own challenges. For instance, physicians and pharmacists face serious time restrictions and lack of reimbursement for the types of counseling needed to make drug therapy safer and more effective.

In addition, pharmaceutical companies “foot the bill” for many patient education programs used by health professionals. But “too many companies try to apply advertising techniques to patient education,” Dr. Smith said. “The Madison Avenue approach that works so well for cars and breakfast cereals just does not work for medications.” Consumers are looking for “practical and useful” patient information that will help them decide if they want to take the medication and, if so, what they can do to help make the therapy as safe as possible.

And, finally, she said, “people do not ask questions when they don’t feel they know enough about the subject.” This does not mean consumers are stupid–they “just need some guidance and background information” so they are better informed.

The reality, she said, is that “when a person is not well-informed and motivated to manage the treatment in a safe and wise manner, the cost of the treatment goes up for both the consumer and the health care insurance plan. The answer is to educate people so they can learn how to manage their medications wisely and safely.”

Founded in 1983 by Dr. Dorothy L. Smith, Consumer Health Information Corporation is unique because it has 20 years of actual clinical experience in counseling patients about their medications. Dr. Smith is an internationally recognized expert in patient education, patient compliance and behavior modification programs.

The organization’s team of distinguished clinicians, patient education experts, and award-winning designers produce a broad range of print and audiovisual programs which have helped millions of people learn to make wise decisions about their health and medications. With a reputation for quality and credibility, these programs are developed for consumer organizations and publications, major pharmaceutical companies, Fortune 500 companies, managed care organizations, insurance companies, and pharmacies.