Consumer product information affects us all

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Editor, – One of the repeated criticisms of consumer product information(CPI) (Aust Prescr1996;19:30-4) from groups other than consumers has been the length of these documents. But what do consumers think?

Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and Astra Pharmaceuticals have been testing CPI leaflets with consumers since their introduction in January1993. On average, the CPIs tested by MSD have been 3-4 A4 pages in length, while those of Astra average 3 A4 pages, when set out in a 3 column format. MSD and Astra are focusing their testing on the elderly, as these consumers are considered more 'at risk' in their use of medicines.

CPIs have been tested with over 500 consumers and, of these, about 10% have commented, without prompting, that the documents were too long. Upon further discussion, few of these consumers could suggest what information could be omitted. Some felt that the list of ingredients could be left out. However, when the reason for including this was explained (i.e. in the case where the patient has an allergy to one of the ingredients), they fully appreciated the need for the list. Men who felt CPIs were too long usually thought that the pregnancy and breast-feeding sections could be deleted. Several commented that the CPI would be too long 'for most people', but considered it an appropriate length for themselves.

Upon reviewing the testing results, the comments obtained from consumers are overwhelmingly positive, with comments like:

- there should be one for every medicine

- it makes it easier to work out what to ask your doctor

- it is very clear and easy to understand

- very informative

- to be congratulated on covering everything

- in language I can understand

- so helpful, can't find a fault with it

- very clear, straightforward

- couldn't be clearer

- understandable, easy to follow

- easy to find what you want to know

Several consumers also commented that they would use the CPI as a reference and that they would take it with them when visiting their doctor.

The consumer testing undertaken to date does not suggest any need for CPIs to be reduced in length or changed from their present form.

Until consumers tell us that they do not want CPIs as comprehensive as the existing documents, we should continue our current approach.

Deborah Monk
CPI Content/Quality Assurance Reference Group
North Sydney, N.S.W.