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Exploring UK attitudes towards unlicensed medicines use: a questionnaire-based study of members of the general public and physicians

Authors Chisholm A

Received 17 November 2011

Accepted for publication 6 December 2011

Published 10 January 2012 Volume 2012:5 Pages 27—40


Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Alison Chisholm
Omega Scientific, Yately, UK

Aims: To undertake a questionnaire-based study to evaluate attitudes towards the use of unlicensed medicines among prescribing doctors and members of the general public (ie, patients). The study also aimed to explore the factors that influence physicians' prescribing decisions and priorities, and to understand the knowledge of the medicines licensing system among members of the public.
Methods: Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Ltd funded the online interview of 500 members of the general public and 249 prescribing physicians. Best practice standards were followed for questionnaire-based studies; no specific treatments or conditions were mentioned or discussed.
Results: Few of the participating physicians, only 14%, were very familiar with the UK General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines on the use of unlicensed medicines and just 17% felt very comfortable prescribing an unlicensed medication when a licensed alternative was available. Key physician concerns included the lack of safety data (76%), legal implications (76%), and safety monitoring associated with unlicensed medicine use (71%). Patients and physicians agreed that safety and efficacy are the most important prescribing considerations, although 48% of participating physicians were worried that budget pressures may increase pressure to prescribe unlicensed medications on the basis of cost. A high proportion of patients (81%) also indicated some degree of concern, were they to be prescribed an unlicensed medication when a licensed alternative was available specifically because it costs less.
Conclusions: This UK-based questionnaire study suggests pervasive concerns among prescribers over the safety, monitoring, and legal implications of unlicensed prescribing. High levels of concern were expressed among patients and physicians if cost were to become an influential factor when making decisions between licensed and unlicensed medications.

Keywords: patient, physician, unlicensed treatment, concern, safety, trust

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