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Patients actively seeking information about new drugs have better chances of getting them from their doctors. However, the long-term side effects of new drugs are often unknown, and the drugs that passed the test of time might be safer option.

When we have medical problems and have to go to a doctor, we often have no idea what kind of pills will be prescribed to us even when we know what is our illness. We often rely entirely on the specialists’ knowledge and experience and don’t question why a particular drug was given to us. However, many other people, especially those suffering from long-term chronic illnesses, take a proactive approach and investigate what options are available. Often this people come to their GPs knowing exactly what they would prefer to see on their prescription. Do these people get any better results in terms of effectiveness of their treatment? Or they simply waste their time trying to do the job of qualified specialists?

Information seeking patients have better chances of getting novel drugs

Recent research shows that the patients searching for information on their conditions and treatments can indeed get a better deal.  Researchers from National Cancer Institute’s Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research at the University of Pennsylvania studied correlation between information-seeking and the frequency of prescription of recently marketed new drugs. These days, internet and mass media provide plenty of information about recently developed drugs. Most of novel medicines receive a detailed coverage on television and in newspapers as well.

For the purpose of this study, scientists checked the treatment history of 663 patients with colorectal cancer. They patients were chosen randomly. Researchers hypothesized that those patients who have read about new drugs for colorectal cancer might ask their doctors about them and, consequently, have a better chance of receiving new medicines. When the study was performed, two new treatments for colorectal cancer, Avastin and Erbitux, were approved. Internet and media coverage of these drugs was significant, and it was reasonable to expect that those patients who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer might have heard of them.

The findings confirmed the hypothesis. Patients actively looking for information were indeed obtaining better, new treatments. The difference between proactive patients and the others was very significant. People who were looking for information on new drugs were 3.22 times more likely to get them.

Novel drugs are not necessarily the best

So, proactive approach can indeed secure you a novel medical treatment. But does it really guarantee that you will be cured faster and more effectively?

The conclusions of the above study doesn’t really mean that each and every individual should do his/her home work browsing internet and scientific or medical literature before each appointment with a doctor. Medical professionals naturally tend to prescribe the drugs that are well proven to work. Test of time is the best guarantee for the drug’s safety and efficacy. All drugs have side effects. Long-term side effects are often unknown. There were plenty of examples when well proven drugs approved by governmental regulatory bodies were withdrawn after many years of use. One relatively recent example of such a drug is Vioxx (Rofecoxib). This is a pain killer developed by Merck, a blockbuster drug from the coxibs family of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This effective drug turned out to significantly increase the chances of myocardial infarction when used regularly for longer than 6 months.

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