Fewer Irish adults reading important product information

News Category: Regulatory news

Date: 18/05/2016

HPRA reveals results of consumer research study 

A new national survey* from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) today reveals trends that suggest Irish consumers are changing the ways in which they access information on medicines. One in four (26%) of adults admit that they never read product information for an over the counter medicine, with a further one in five (21%) never reading information for a prescription only medicine - a rise from 14% and 12% respectively in 2010. The survey, which examines consumer attitudes towards a number of medicine related topics, also highlights the increasing influence of the internet with four out of ten people (43%) using it to source information  on health issues. However, consistent with previous HPRA surveys, the findings show that GPs and pharmacists continue to be far and away the most trusted sources of advice on medicines.

The survey also reveals that almost one third (31%) of Irish adults take medication on a long-term basis. The findings show that more Irish women (33%) state they are on long term treatments compared to men (29%). Those on long treatments are typically taking at least two medicines while some 16% admit to never reading the product information that comes with their prescription medication.  

According to Lorraine Nolan, Chief Executive, HPRA, this research provides a valuable insight for the national regulator to enable it to best direct its efforts and formulate policies to continue to protect patients and consumers in relation to medicines.

“Medicines can help us live longer and healthier lives but it is so important that people take them as directed to ensure they get the maximum benefits while at the same time reducing the potential risk of side effects. We have a role in directing people to seek access to the most accurate and reliable information on medicines so that their effectiveness and safety is maximised. Ensuring patients and consumers are well informed with the most appropriate advice on their medication can only lead to better individual outcomes and improved public health overall.”

“Although large numbers are reading the product information on the label and leaflet – and tell us they find it generally easy to understand – the HPRA is concerned that overall the trend in the numbers accessing this information is downwards. We encourage people to always read this information and not just the first time that they take a new medicine. Significant details such as the contraindications or potential side effects can change from time to time so it is important that those on long-term medication consult the product information regularly,” Ms Nolan says.

Generic Medicines: The HPRA research shows a substantial growth in confidence and understanding of generic medicines, with two out of three people (60%) citing familiarity with these products. This represents a decidedly marked improvement on awareness levels since 2013 when under half (48%) stated awareness and in 2010 when the corresponding figure was just 36%. Not only has awareness of generics risen in recent years, consumption levels have also seen a corresponding rise – over four in ten (44%) Irish adults state they have taken a generic medicine (33% in 2013), with nine out of ten people (88%) stating they had a positive experience.

Internet: The influence of internet as a channel of information is significant with one in four (24%) people using it to specifically source information on medicines and this rises to four out of ten (43%) using it for information on wider health matters. Importantly, the research highlights that for those who use the internet as a source of information, two out of three (62%) say it influences their actual choice of medicine or treatment (an increase from 49% in 2010).

  • Seven out of 10 (70%) use it to research a particular health problem (2010: 56%)
  • Almost half (46%) research types of medicines for particular conditions (2010: 33%)
  • Four of ten (39%) use the internet to diagnose their symptoms (2010: 30%)

The number of consumers seeking to purchase medicines online remains low, with 2% (representing circa 70,000 adults) saying they have purchased medicines online. The top three reasons being cited are lower price; convenience and greater privacy. However, some 8% of adults (circa 284,000 adults) state they would consider purchasing medication online in the future. 

Whilst, the authenticity and safety of prescription medicines available via the internet is a concern for two thirds of adults (66%) surveyed, almost one third of all adults (28%) are surprised to know that it is illegal to supply prescription medicines online.

According to Ms Nolan, how people are using the internet to self-diagnose and influence their choice of medicine does raise some concerns.

“The internet is an instantly accessible information and research tool, and there is a massive amount of material available to the public at the touch of their smartphone, but we urge caution as not all published information is reputable or reliable. Our advice is to only use official and state websites or those of recognised medical and academic organisations, and not to use any information in isolation without expert advice. There is inherent risk to self-diagnosis and nothing can replace the direct personal interaction of discussing a health issue with a healthcare professional who is aware of your medical history.“

Trust of Healthcare Professionals: The research also reveals the strong level of trust employed by Irish public in their healthcare professional. GPs (67%) and pharmacists (27%) are by far the most trusted sources of medicines advice. A total of 85% will always / sometimes seek advice from their healthcare professional before taking a new over the counter product with pharmacists consulted most widely (68%) in such cases.

Concluding Ms Nolan says that the majority of people have a deeply established relationship of trust with their GP and pharmacist. “Our primary advice to consumers is always to contact healthcare professionals with any concerns about health matters. A healthcare practitioner, who will likely be familiar with the person’s medical history, is best placed to advise on what treatment or medication an individual may need.”  


Weber Shandwick PR                              (01) 679 8600 

Siobhan Molloy / Orla Molloy                 086 817 5066 / 087 770 5108

*The HPRA's third nationally representative survey of Irish adults was carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes. The research involved face to face interviews with 1,000 adults aged 16+. 

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