According to a new study by Dartmouth Doctors Lisa Shwartz and Steven Woloshin, it’s more than possible for the FDA to provide quantitative information — empirical data showing the efficacy of drugs — in a presentable, articulate way, which will help people better understand the risks and benefits of the medicine they’re taking and allow them to make more informed decisions about their medicine.
Their idea is simple. Medicines should have what they call a drug facts box that concisely shows how the drug compares to a placebo.
These boxes would show that the drugs were either significantly more effective, or weren’t very effective in comparison to a placebo. If they weren’t, people may decide to consider other, less risky medicines.
And that’s kind of the idea.The drug facts box isn’t intended to help people choose the cheaper option, as some might think — they’re designed to help people figure out what medicine is objectively better.
“When the people are presented with the standard information they see — like a drug ad — about 30 percent of people chose the better drug,” said Woloshin, speaking about a social experiment he and Shwartz had conducted on their proposed drug facts box. “But when we showed them information in the drug facts box form, 68 percent of people were able to choose the objectively better drug. So that’s a really dramatic improvement. It just shows you that if you show people information in a way that’s understandable, they can use it, and it can improve their decision.”
Woloshin and Shwartz also conducted an experiment on a drug facts box for Lunesta, a medicine that treats insomnia, which 10% of all adults suffer from. Their version of the box told patients that people who took Lunesta fell asleep 15 minutes faster than those who took the placebo. What’s more, the box also noted that the Lunesta group stayed asleep 37 minutes longer than the control group.
According to Shwartz and Woloshin, there are people out there who might consider these benefits are worth taking the drug, and some who might not think the benefits outweigh Lunesta’s risks.
“That’s the whole point of the drugs facts box — to let people look at the evidence and come to their own judgments,” said Woloshin. “But you can’t make those judgments without the facts