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Using medicines wisely: The medicines information pharmacist's role

By Sheena Kerr

Medicines information (MI) can be defined as the provision of unbiased, evidence-based and critically evaluated information about medicines, in an attempt to improve patient care.

MI was previously known as “drug information” but this term was phased out in 2000 as part of the strategy “Better information for managing medicines”, which was published in April of that year.1 This was because “drug” had become associated with drugs of abuse, and after wide consultation the name of the service was changed to MI.


The specialty of drug information developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s in response to the changes in the types of medicines being marketed, the amount of information available and the changes in pharmacy services as a result of the Noel Hall report.2 At this time, the number of new medicines not only increased enormously, but they were also more potent; the therapies used were also more complex than had previously been the case. With these new medicines came an expansion in the medical literature. It then became a challenge to keep abreast of the latest developments in order to make appropriate decisions. This was especially true of the emerging specialty of ward pharmacy. The drug or medicines information service was established to meet the demand for evaluated independent information. As the service developed, a tiered structure was put in place, with ward (or clinical) pharmacists being supported by local information centres which, in turn, were supported by regional and national centres.3

Today, new medicines are evermore potent and complex, for example, pegylated interferon and gene therapy. Their introduction has been accompanied by a vast amount of new information. It has been estimated that, each year, about 20,000 biomedical journals and 17,000 biomedical textbooks are published. Access to these publications may now be easier and faster but there is still a need for competent evaluation of the information contained in them. Although the role of clinical pharmacists has changed, there is still a need to make use of evaluated information in optimising drug therapy in patients.


Pharmacists specialising in MI undertake a range of activities and the form these take is often dependent on the staff and resources available. As well as answering queries, the MI service includes the proactive provision of information (in paper or electronic format), adverse drug reaction reporting, provision of a medicines helpline for members of the public, support for drug and therapeutics committees (DTCs), training and education, and research. Some activities, such as enquiry-answering and support for DTCs, contribute to the clinical governance agenda in a trust. On the other hand, the use of customer satisfaction and peer review programmes contribute to the internal clinical governance of the MI service.


Providing answers to requests for information is an important part of the daily routine for all MI pharmacists. Questions may range from the mundane to the highly complex, but the answers given all contribute towards improving patient care. Enquiries are routinely classified as follows:

  • Administration/dosage
  • Adverse effects
  • Availability/supply
  • Choice of therapy
  • Identification
  • Interactions
  • Pharmaceutics
  • Pharmacology/pharmacokinetics
  • Poisoning

Download the attached PDF to read the full article.

Citation: Hospital Pharmacist URI: 10976343

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