National census of medicines use

Background

There is currently limited comprehensive information about what medicines Australians take, why they take them and what problems, if any, they might be having.

The National Census of Medicines Use in Australia is a research project aimed at finding out how Australians use their medicines, including prescription, non-prescription and complementary medicines.

Aim

The aims of this project are to:

  • understand the pattern of use of prescription, non-prescription and complementary medicines
  • estimate the prevalence of potentially serious medicine–medicine interactions
  • better understand adverse drug events
  • investigate information-seeking behaviour around medicines.

Design/method

The project is being run in two phases:

The first phase of the research was conducted between June 2009 and July 2010. A questionnaire was sent to a random sample of Australians aged 50 years and older, taken from the electoral roll. The questionnaires were mailed in four waves to account for seasonal variation in medicines use. The questionnaire included a medicine diary in which participants recorded all medicines used in the previous 24 hours and all other medicines used in the previous month.

Survey participants who agreed to assist with further research participated in interviews to assess the reliability of the questionnaire and to collect more detailed information about how they make decision about their medicines.

The second phase of the research is being conducted in 2012, with a random sample of Australians aged 18 to 49 years.  

Collaborators

This project is being run in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, with expert advice from academics from the University of Auckland, Monash University and Southern Cross University.

Current status / summary of results

The first phase of the research is complete.  

The second phase of the research will be in field until the end of 2012. 

Key findings from phase 1:1

  • The majority (87.1%) of participants took one or more medicines in past day and almost half ( 43.3%) took five or more.
  • 46.3% of participants used complementary medicines in the past day, 87.4% of these participants used both conventional and complementary medicines (CMs).
  • The most commonly used medicines were:
    • antihypertensive agents (43.2% of participants in past day)
    • natural marine and animal products including fish oil and glucosamine (32.4%) 
    • lipid-lowering agents (30.4%) 
    • anticoagulants, antithrombotic (25.3%).
  • Doctors (GPs) recommended 79.3% of all medicines. Complementary medicines were often recommended by the media (18.6%) or by friends and family (17.6%).

Additional data tables are available

Preliminary findings presented at conferences in 2010 and 2011:

  • In the past year 19% of medicine users reported experiencing a problem with their medicines.
  • 15% of participants who used medicines in the last year, reported they didn’t purchase, stopped using, or cut down the dose of a medicine recommended by a health professional due to cost. CMs were the type of medicines most likely to be changed due to cost.
  • Half of medicines users looked for medicines information in the last year. GPs and the internet were very common sources of medicines information and rated by most respondents as useful. Looking for information was significantly associated with having started a new medicines or having experienced a problem with a medicines in the past year.

Publications

Peer reviewed papers

  1. Morgan T, Williamson M, Pirotta M, Stewart K, Myers S, Barnes J. A national census of medicines use: a 24-hour snapshot of Australians aged 50 years and older. Medical Journal of Australia 2012; 196 (1): 50-53 (Abstract / full text)

Conference presentations and posters (2010–12)

  1. Morgan T, Williamson M, Brown J, Pirotta M, Stewart K, Barnes J. Potentially inappropriate medicines use and combinations of use in the Australian community. Primary Health Care Research Conference 13-15 July 2011, Brisbane, Australia. (Abstract / presentation)
  2. Tudball J, Morgan T, Williamson M, Stewart K, Barnes J, Pirotta M. Deciding about medicines: many different people, four different ways. Primary Health Care Research Conference 13–15 July 2011, Brisbane, Australia. (Abstract / presentation)
  3. Morgan T, Williamson M, Stewart K, Barnes J, Pirotta M. Seeking and receiving medicines information. Primary Health Care Research Conference June 30–July 2 2010, Darwin, Australia (Abstract)
  4. Williamson M, Morgan T, Stewart K, Barnes J, Pirotta M. Prevalence and outcomes of adverse medicines events in the Australian community setting. Primary Health Care Research Conference June 30–July 2 2010, Darwin, Australia (Poster)
  5. Morgan T, Williamson M, Stewart K, Barnes J, Pirotta M. The influence of cost on medicines use by older Australians. Primary Health Care Research Conference June 30–July 2 2010, Darwin, Australia (Poster)
  6. Pirotta M,  Morgan T,  Williamson M. Medicines used for pain management in a community sample. NAPCRG 2010 Seattle USA November 2010
  7. Morgan T, Pirotta M, Stewart K, Barnes J, Myers S, Williamson M. The National Census of Medicines Use: Medicine Use by Australians Aged 50 Years and Older, National Medicine Symposium, 26–28 May 2010, Melbourne, Australia (Abstract)
  8. Morgan T, Williamson M, Stewart K, Barnes J, Pirotta M. Medicines Information Seeking Behaviour: Data from the National Census of Medicines Use, National Medicine Symposium, 26–28 May 2010, Melbourne, Australia (Abstract)
  9. Morgan T, Williamson M, Stewart K, Barnes J, Pirotta M. Prevalence and outcomes of Adverse Medicines Events in the Australia Community, National Medicine Symposium, 26–28 May 2010, Melbourne, Australia (Poster)
  10. Williamson M, Morgan T, Stewart K, Barnes J, Pirotta M. The Influence of Cost on Consumer Medicine Use in Australia, National Medicine Symposium, 26–28 May 2010, Melbourne, Australia (Poster)

Informing practice

The results from this research are being used to inform programs at NPS to help Australians use medicines safely and effectively.

Related information and links

Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Health Survey: use of medications, Australia, 1995. Canberra: ABS, 1999. (ABS Cat. No. 4377.0.)

Slone Survey of medication use in the U. S. population, Slone Epidemiology Center Boston University