I love finding websites that provide people with evidence-based health care guidance that is also easy to understand.
Like the law, medicine is full of jargon and tortured language that can leave the most intelligent patient confused about risks and benefits.
Clear communication is especially necessary when talking about prescription medications.
I just ran across a new website called Informulary, which was started with the goal of providing easy-to-use and understand DrugFactsBoxes, similar to nutrition labels on foods.
Since 2009, the Food and Drug Administration has required facts labels on all over-the-counter medications, but so far they have ignored the medical community’s push to provide the same kind of standardized labels for prescription meds.
Informulary’s creators, Drs. Lisa Schwartz and Stephen Woloshin, decided to take on the challenge and provide this service themselves. In 2011, they wrote on op-ed in the New York Times outlining their idea: Think Inside the Box
Informulary’s mission, as stated on the website, is to
- Increase the use of and adherence to effective drugs
- Decrease the use of ineffective or harmful drugs
- Improve the quality of drug research by increasing transparency about what drugs do
How do they do this?
- We examine publicly available Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval documents – supplemented by high quality systematic reviews – to extract the most important data on each prescription drug. We are then able to formulate an overall picture of the drug’s benefits, harms, and uncertainties.
- We build a complete library of drug facts that can be used to develop a number of tools to help consumers, providers, and pharmacy managers choose the safest and most effective drugs.
- We present the most relevant facts in a neat, simple format, which can be interpreted by both physicians and consumers.
It’s important to emphasize that the information they provide is not the marketing gibberish from the drug maker.
Advertisements are a lousy way to get information about any product. And it can be especially harmful or expensive when that product is a drug. A drug that is being “sold” to you with images of healthy, happy people playing in the sunshine with puppies and kittens.
By law, pharmaceutical commercials have to tell you of the side effects and possible bad outcomes, but that is usually a fast-spoken, almost comical list that most people now ignore. They’ve heard it too many times.
Be informed. The right drug for the right problem can be life-saving. But know the benefits and risks of any medication before taking it.
Informulary might be able to help. Right now the site is open to the public, but it’s in beta so not many DrugFactBoxes are available yet. Eventually, the website will probably charge a small fee for each fact box, with a larger subscription fee for physicians and hospitals.
A grant from Consumer Reports has allowed them to offer the following fact boxes of commonly prescribed drugs at no charge:
- Zohydro ER
I hope they are quickly able to expand on what they’ve started. It’s a great idea, and a much-needed resource.