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Address at the Australian Prescriber Internet Site launch

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Australia's Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. Media Release Page 1 o f 3



Australian Presciber Internet site Launch

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information about it.

Of course, when Samuel Johnson wrote these words in a letter in 1775, he wasn't making a reference to the Internet as a source of information. In the days when people died from diseases which are now easily treatable, imagine what they would have thought if they could see us

searching data throughout the world for research on a particular medical condition at the touch of a computer key.

But I find Dr Johnson's words very relevant to what we are talking about here today.

Medicine is an area that is always changing, always being updated. At the launch of this year's National Medicines Week in Melbourne last Sunday, I used peptic ulcers as an example of this metamorphosis. Twenty-five years ago, it was commonly thought that stomach ulcers were only

caused by stress, or spicy food, or smoking. People with ulcers expected they would have to go under the surgeon's knife or be on medication for life - not to mention a strict diet.

Now, thanks largely to the work of a West Australian doctor, we know stomach and duodenal ulcers can be caused by the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori (pronounced 'heelicobacter pie-lorry'). A short course of medicine is usually all that is required now to knock off the bacteria.

We all know it's crucial for prescribers to remain fully informed about the latest developments in medicine, to ensure the best possible outcome for their patients. Quality Internet sites like Australian Prescriber help make this possible.

As Dr Dowden mentioned, Australian Prescriber already reaches 60,000 people in paper form, and market research conducted last year shows the publication is very highly regarded. In fact, a significant number of doctors surveyed said the publication had an effect on their prescribing.

A review of Australian Prescriber also conducted last year showed doctors had three main sources of independent information about medicines. They are the Australian Medicines Handbook, the Therapeutic Guidelines, and Australian Prescriber. Of course, since that review was conducted we have seen the launch of the National Prescribing Service, which has already begun to provide doctors with feedback and information relevant to their prescribing practices.

This new web site we're launching today provides another option for receiving Australian Prescriber, and I'm pleased this valuable publication will now be available to all Australians - not just prescribers.

The Internet is a great source of information for consumers. More than one million Australians of all ages regularly log on to the Internet from home. Many of these people are in remote areas of the country, where the nearest library might be in a town 500 kilometres away.

The Internet has already made a big difference for many of these people.

Of course, accessing any sort of information through the Internet should be done with care. A search on the word "health" can bring up 4.5 million references - and not all health sites contain quality, credible, independent information.

A workshop organised by the South-West Asia-Pacific division of the Drug Information Association in Sydney earlier this year came up with a few questions for people to keep in mind when accessing a site, including: 03/12/1998

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• Is the site clearly identified? • Is it sponsored by a reputable organisation, such as a government agency or a university? • Is the author reputable? • Has the date on which the information was created or last updated been included? • Are all sides of the argument presented? • Are all vested interests identified?

The Australian Prescriber web site certainly meets these criteria, and I applaud the publication's executive editorial board and staff for their initiative in making this valuable resource available to prescribers, consumers, and other interested parties, world-wide. I congratulate them for the idea of this site, and I look forward to hearing Professor Fletcher tell us about some of the features of

its use.

The development of this web site by a local Canberra company is also a good example of partnership between the public and private sectors, which the Commonwealth Government supports and encourages.

While an increasing number of Australian consumers are using the Internet, not everyone has access to a computer or feels comfortable using one.

There is a range of other resources available to consumers to help them understand their medicines - including Consumer Medicine Information, or CMI. This is the name given to a special form of easy-to-understand information about medicines, written specifically for patients. There are CMIs available for more than 800 medicines at the moment, and eventually they will be available for all prescription medicines, as well as non-prescription medicines that people can only get from a pharmacist.

CMI provides answers to many common questions about medicines, including:

• what the medicine is for; • how to use it properly; • what to do if a dose is missed; and • possible side effects.

A logo is being developed to help people identify CMI - when they see the logo, they will know the leaflet it is on contains unbiased, quality information about that particular medicine. CMI is a great contribution the pharmaceutical industry has made to the quality use of medicines.

Further information about CMI is available through the Australian Pahrmaceutical Manufacturers' Association's Internet site, which also goes on-linetoday. There is a direct link from the Australian Prescriber site to the ΑΡΜΑ site.

Probably the most important source of information about medicines for consumers is still health professionals themselves. Doctors, pharmacists and nurses can all provide advice and written information about medicines - information that is personalised for their patients.

I encourage consumers to seek information from these experts, and I am pleased to see this message is conveyed on the Australian Prescriber web site's consumer page.

The message of National Medicines Week is 'Ask and be wise' about your medicines. So my message to you is, if there's anything you're unsure of about your medicines, don't guess - ask someone who knows. People may not feel comfortable doing this at first, but they should remember they have a right to all the information they need to make sure they are using their medicines safely.

I also encourage doctors, pharmacists and nurses to ask their patients if they have any questions about their medicines, and to respond positively to their requests for information. 03/12/1998

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I now have much pleasure in officially launching the Australian Prescriber web site.




Last updated 2 November 1998 by Dirk Nissen 03/12/1998