Patient Information Leaflets

Benefits and Potential Pitfalls of PIL

16 March 2019



What are PILs?

Patient information leaflets (PILs) are documents given with medications which provide the patient with important information regarding the medication, in a language easily understood by them. PILs are given by healthcare professionals such as doctors (during consultation) and pharmacists (during dispensing and patient counselling).


Benefits of PILs

PILs are frequently used to complement verbal counselling provided by the doctors and pharmacists regarding medication use. By providing the patient with a physical copy of the medication information, it helps to reinforce their understanding of the information provided by the healthcare professionals and serves as a reminder for them in case they forget in the future.


The benefits of PILs have been demonstrated in several studies. PILs have been found to help patients gain a better understanding of their medications and conditions and facilitate proper medication use, leading to improved patient compliance and a higher degree of patient satisfaction. The provision of information may also reduce patient anxiety by empowering patients to practice greater self-management. For healthcare professionals, the use of PILs has also been found to decrease consultation times, improving the efficiency of the healthcare service.


Furthermore, studies have shown that most patients prefer to receive a PIL, especially when they are prescribed a medication for the first time. Most patients also claim that they would read the PILs given to them, at least occasionally. The information that patients often look out for are the indications of the medication, how the medication works and its benefits, how to take the medicine, as well as its possible side effects. These show that PILs have an important role to play in educating patients about their medications.


Potential Pitfalls

However, a poorly designed PIL might be ineffective and not serve its desired purposes. For instance, a PIL which is too verbose may be a turn-off or too overwhelming for patients. This could negatively influence their decision to read the PIL. When too much information is provided for the side effects profile of the medication, patients may also feel daunted or anxious, and not want to take the medication due to the fear of experiencing adverse reactions, ultimately translating to decreased patient compliance. Besides that, a PIL with an excessive use of technical or medical jargons could lead to confusion, which defeats the original purpose of providing information to the patients. Hence, the design of a PIL is critical to its success and needs to be carefully considered. 


Features of a Well-designed PIL 

A good PIL should be designed in a user-friendly format that allows easy reading and comprehension. A question-and-answer (Q&A) format is often useful to increase patient engagement.


Pictures or diagrams are also a helpful aid to convey information effectively, especially in educating patients on the administration techniques for non-oral medications. Patients can better visualise the correct administration techniques for non-oral medications, such as inhaler, subcutaneous injection, etc.


The language used should be in a ‘layman’ style, with medical jargons replaced by more easily understood words that convey the same meaning. Multilingual PILs are also good to cater for people who speak different languages.


The contents of the PIL should be concise and unambiguous to avoid unwanted confusion. It is important to include only the important and relevant information to prevent the PIL from becoming too lengthy. 


Special attention should be paid when designing the side effects profile. As mentioned, an excess of information may frighten the patient and adversely impact compliance. Only the more clinically relevant and applicable side effects should be listed, and these should be categorised based on their frequencies. In addition, advice on how to manage the side effects as well as when to seek medical attention should also be included. With such information, patients will be able to better anticipate the types of side effects they may experience, and what side effects warrant medical evaluation, without experiencing unnecessary anxiety.


It is also recommended that PILs are proofread before it is published or distributed. Healthcare professionals can check and confirm the accuracy and validity of the information, while members of the general public or patients can provide feedback about how easily understood the content is.  


Conclusion

PILs are useful medication counselling aids that benefit both the patients and healthcare professionals when properly designed. When considering the design of the PIL, both the format and content need to be tailored to the needs of patients. With patients today becoming increasingly proactive and taking a higher degree of ownership of their own health, PILs are one way to provide them with correct information regarding their medications.



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