The influence of evidence-based medicine training on decision-making in relation to over-the-counter medicines: a qualitative study



Dr Lezley-Anne Hanna, School of Pharmacy, Queen's University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK.




To explore the role of evidence of effectiveness when making decisions about over-the-counter (OTC) medication and to ascertain whether evidence-based medicine training raised awareness in decision-making. Additionally, this work aimed to complement the findings of a previous study because all participants in this current study had received training in evidence-based medicine (unlike the previous participants).


Following ethical approval and an e-mailed invitation, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were conducted with newly registered pharmacists (who had received training in evidence-based medicine as part of their MPharm degree) to discuss the role of evidence of effectiveness with OTC medicines. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Following transcription, all data were entered into the NVivo software package (version 8). Data were coded and analysed using a constant comparison approach.

Key findings

Twenty-five pharmacists (7 males and 18 females; registered for less than 4 months) were recruited and all participated in the study. Their primary focus with OTC medicines was safety; sales of products (including those that lack evidence of effectiveness) were justified provided they did no harm. Meeting patient expectation was also an important consideration and often superseded evidence. Despite knowledge of the concept, and an awareness of ethical requirements, an evidence-based approach was not routinely implemented by these pharmacists. Pharmacists did not routinely utilize evidence-based resources when making decisions about OTC medicines and some felt uncomfortable discussing the evidence-base for OTC products with patients.


The evidence-based medicine training that these pharmacists received appeared to have limited influence on OTC decision-making. More work could be conducted to ensure that an evidence-based approach is routinely implemented in practice.