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Strategies to improve safe and effective medicines use by consumers: an overview of systematic reviews

Ryan R, Santesso N, Lowe D, Hill S, Grimshaw J, Prictor M, Kaufman C, Cowie G, Taylor M
Published Online: 
29 April 2014

Review question: This is an update of an overview first published in 2011. Researchers in the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed the evidence from systematic reviews about the effects of interventions to improve safe and effective medicines use by consumers, irrespective of disease, medicine type, population or setting.

Background: Medicines are a cornerstone of treatment for many health problems. Many strategies exist to help people to use medicines safely and effectively, but research in the area is poorly organised across diseases, populations and settings. This can make it difficult for policy makers, health professionals and others to find and use the evidence about what works and what does not.

Study characteristics: This overview summarised the evidence from 75 systematic reviews on consumers' medicine use published to March 2012. Reviews covered acute and chronic diseases in diverse populations and settings; and evaluated a wide range of strategies to improve medicines use, including support for behaviour change, risk minimisation and skills acquisition. Medicines adherence was the most commonly-reported outcome, with others such as knowledge and clinical outcomes also reported. Adverse events were identified less often.

Key results: Collectively, the results suggest that there are many different potential pathways through which consumers' use of medicines could be targeted to improve outcomes. However, no single strategy improved all medicines-use outcomes across all diseases, populations or settings.

Strategies that appear to improve medicines use include medicines self-monitoring and self-management programmes, while simplified dosing regimens and directly involving pharmacists in medicines management (eg medicines reviews) appear promising. Other strategies, such as delayed antibiotic prescriptions; practical management tools (eg reminders, packaging); education or information combined with other strategies (eg self-management skills training, counselling); and financial incentives, may also have some positive effects, but their effects are less consistent.

Some strategies, such as directly observed therapy, may be ineffective. Other strategies such as providing information or education alone may have variable effects, being ineffective to change some outcomes (eg medicines adherence) but improving others such as knowledge, which is key for informed medicines choices. Despite a doubling of the number of included reviews in this update, uncertainty remains about the effects of many interventions, and the evidence on what works was particularly sparse for several populations, including children and young people, carers, and people with multimorbidity.

Quality of the evidence: Included reviews often had methodological limitations - at study level, review level, or both - meaning results should be interpreted with caution.