Background: Many systematic reviews exist on interventions to improve safe and effective medicines use by consumers, but research is distributed across diseases, populations and settings. The scope and focus of such reviews also vary widely, creating challenges for decision-makers seeking to inform decisions by using the evidence on consumers' medicines use. This is an update of a 2011 overview of systematic reviews, which synthesises the evidence, irrespective of disease, medicine type, population or setting, on the effectiveness of interventions to improve consumers' medicines use.
Objectives: To assess the effects of interventions which target healthcare consumers to promote safe and effective medicines use, by synthesising review-level evidence.
Methods: Search methods: We included systematic reviews published on the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects. We identified relevant reviews by handsearching databases from their start dates to March 2012.
Selection criteria: We screened and ranked reviews based on relevance to consumers' medicines use, using criteria developed for this overview.
Data collection and analysis: We used standardised forms to extract data, and assessed reviews for methodological quality using the AMSTAR tool. We used standardised language to summarise results within and across reviews; and gave bottom-line statements about intervention effectiveness. Two review authors screened and selected reviews, and extracted and analysed data. We used a taxonomy of interventions to categorise reviews and guide syntheses.
Main results: We included 75 systematic reviews of varied methodological quality. Reviews assessed interventions with diverse aims including support for behaviour change, risk minimisation and skills acquisition. No reviews aimed to promote systems-level consumer participation in medicines-related activities. Medicines adherence was the most frequently-reported outcome, but others such as knowledge, clinical and service-use outcomes were also reported. Adverse events were less commonly identified, while those associated with the interventions themselves, or costs, were rarely reported.
Looking across reviews, for most outcomes, medicines self-monitoring and self-management programmes appear generally effective to improve medicines use, adherence, adverse events and clinical outcomes; and to reduce mortality in people self-managing antithrombotic therapy. However, some participants were unable to complete these interventions, suggesting they may not be suitable for everyone.
Other promising interventions to improve adherence and other key medicines-use outcomes, which require further investigation to be more certain of their effects, include:
- simplified dosing regimens: with positive effects on adherence;
- interventions involving pharmacists in medicines management, such as medicines reviews (with positive effects on adherence and use, medicines problems and clinical outcomes) and pharmaceutical care services (consultation between pharmacist and patient to resolve medicines problems, develop a care plan and provide follow-up; with positive effects on adherence and knowledge).
Several other strategies showed some positive effects, particularly relating to adherence, and other outcomes, but their effects were less consistent overall and so need further study. These included:
- delayed antibiotic prescriptions: effective to decrease antibiotic use but with mixed effects on clinical outcomes, adverse effects and satisfaction;
- practical strategies like reminders, cues and/or organisers, reminder packaging and material incentives: with positive, although somewhat mixed effects on adherence;
- education delivered with self-management skills training, counselling, support, training or enhanced follow-up; information and counselling delivered together; or education/information as part of pharmacist-delivered packages of care: with positive effects on adherence, medicines use, clinical outcomes and knowledge, but with mixed effects in some studies;
- financial incentives: with positive, but mixed, effects on adherence.
Several strategies also showed promise in promoting immunisation uptake, but require further study to be more certain of their effects. These included organisational interventions; reminders and recall; financial incentives; home visits; free vaccination; lay health worker interventions; and facilitators working with physicians to promote immunisation uptake. Education and/or information strategies also showed some positive but even less consistent effects on immunisation uptake, and need further assessment of effectiveness and investigation of heterogeneity.
There are many different potential pathways through which consumers' use of medicines could be targeted to improve outcomes, and simple interventions may be as effective as complex strategies. However, no single intervention assessed was effective to improve all medicines-use outcomes across all diseases, medicines, populations or settings.
Even where interventions showed promise, the assembled evidence often only provided part of the picture: for example, simplified dosing regimens seem effective for improving adherence, but there is not yet sufficient information to identify an optimal regimen.
In some instances interventions appear ineffective: for example, the evidence suggests that directly observed therapy may be generally ineffective for improving treatment completion, adherence or clinical outcomes.
In other cases, interventions may have variable effects across outcomes. As an example, strategies providing information or education as single interventions appear ineffective to improve medicines adherence or clinical outcomes, but may be effective to improve knowledge; an important outcome for promoting consumers' informed medicines choices.
Despite a doubling in the number of reviews included in this updated overview, uncertainty still exists about the effectiveness of many interventions, and the evidence on what works remains sparse for several populations, including children and young people, carers, and people with multimorbidity.