A bad idea: Consumers rating pharmaceuticals online

Articles
December 08, 2008

A bad idea: Consumers rating pharmaceuticals online

People have countless bad habits when it comes to taking their prescribed medications. They miss doses, take incorrect doses, and split time-release pills in half in ill-conceived attempts to save money. They use expired medications or medications that were prescribed for someone else. They take medications with food, herbs or other medications that cause bad reactions, aggravate conditions, or render the medications less effective in their bodies. Moreover, the vast majority of prescription users fail to ask their pharmacists or prescribing physicians pointed questions to be absolutely clear about their regimen safety. And increasing numbers turn to non-authorities such as un-vetted sources on the Web, or plain-old family, friends and neighbors for advice on powerful drugs. Consider the potential for risk from medication misuse, as expressed in a recent white paper, “Protecting U.S. Citizens From Inappropriate Medication Use,” by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, Hungtingdon, PA: “Two-thirds of the U.S. population receive at least one prescription per year, and close to 40% receive prescriptions for four or more medications. Unfortunately, half of the prescriptions taken each year in the U.S. are used improperly, and 96% of patients nationwide fail to ask questions about how to use their medications….Currently more than 10,000 prescription drugs and 300,000 over-the-counter medications are on the market….At least 1.5 million preventable adverse drug events occur in the U.S. each year; these costly and sometimes fatal incidents include cases of drug mix-ups and unintentional overdoses.”

People have countless bad habits when it comes to taking their prescribed medications. They miss doses, take incorrect doses, and split time-release pills in half in ill-conceived attempts to save money. They use expired medications or medications that were prescribed for someone else.  They take medications with food, herbs or other medications that cause bad reactions, aggravate conditions, or render the medications less effective in their bodies.

Moreover, the vast majority of prescription users fail to ask their pharmacists or prescribing physicians pointed questions to be absolutely clear about their regimen safety. And increasing numbers turn to non-authorities such as un-vetted sources on the Web, or plain-old family, friends and neighbors for advice on powerful drugs.

Consider the potential for risk from medication misuse, as expressed in a recent white paper, “Protecting U.S. Citizens From Inappropriate Medication Use,” by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, Hungtingdon, PA: “Two-thirds of the U.S. population receive at least one prescription per year, and close to 40% receive prescriptions for four or more medications. Unfortunately, half of the prescriptions taken each year in the U.S. are used improperly, and 96% of patients nationwide fail to ask questions about how to use their medications….Currently more than 10,000 prescription drugs and 300,000 over-the-counter medications are on the market….At least 1.5 million preventable adverse drug events occur in the U.S. each year; these costly and sometimes fatal incidents include cases of drug mix-ups and unintentional overdoses.”

Apparently, much of this suffering is self-inflicted.      Now with one more bad consumer habit—rating pharmaceuticals online on sites such as DailyStrength.org, PatientsLikeMe.com and iGuard.org—there’s potential for even greater risk, SupermarketGuru.com believes. 

People who do this aren’t rating tablecloths, coffee makers or video games here. We don’t think this sort of content is self-correcting like Wikipedia. Even if posters are well-intentioned, readers are likely people who are either desperate or too embarrassed to ask a health care professional for guidance, and can’t easily discern how one poster’s comments may be irrelevant to their condition due to other foods or drugs taken at the same time, or numerous other factors.

With 47 million uninsured Americans, and this count growing each day with higher unemployment, it’s understandable that people will look to scrimp on health care costs and seek advice wherever they can. But relying on comments from everyday folks is simply a bad idea.

Better people should augment what their physicians and pharmacists tell them by visiting a few authoritative websites, such as Drugs.com, SafeMedications.com, WebMD.com and MayoClinic.com. If they go there first, they might develop a few good questions of their own to ask their local health care experts.