Objective To review research on the role and value of written medicines information for patients from the perspective of patients and health professionals.
Context Providing written information to patients about their medicines is acknowledged as a priority but there is poor understanding of how best to meet patients’ needs.
Method A sensitive search strategy was developed to maximize the identification of relevant studies. We used a data extraction form designed to appraise qualitative research. Findings were synthesized into a narrative account.
Main results There were three broad categories of study: those which related to policy initiatives; those where the aim was to increase compliance; and those concerned with using information to support decision-making (‘informed patient’ studies). While the policy initiative and compliance studies reported that, mostly, patients were positive about written information, the ‘informed patient’ studies showed a more complex picture. Patients valued medicines information tailored to their condition. They did not want it to be a substitute for spoken information from their doctor. Not everyone wanted written information but those who did wanted sufficient detail to meet their need. Need varied over time and between patients. The small number of studies relating to health professionals showed widespread ambivalence towards using written information. Some thought it should be brief and simple, only partially disclose side-effects and saw its main role as being to increase compliance.
Conclusion The different perspectives of patients and health professionals, and the diverse and changing information needs of patients pose a challenge to providers of written medicines information.