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Not so much TMI as CMI: empowering consumers with clear, accessible information about their medicines

3 October 2019

Credibility is a precious commodity these days. Reputations are hard won, and easily destroyed. Credible and reliable information is the currency of our times. To know the truth, to have the facts at hand, is to be liberated.  

And in the world of medicine, credible, factual and reliable information carries even more weight – sometimes, a matter of life and death.

Better informed health consumers get better health outcomes for themselves and their families.

What are CMIs?

Back in the 1960s, as pharmaceutical use began to grow across the world, regulators realised that people needed useful and reliable information about the medicines they take. 

These patient education documents gradually evolved into Consumer Medicine Information or CMIs.

In Australia, CMIs are written by pharmaceutical companies responsible for medicines, in accordance with TGA guidelines to ensure the information is accurate, unbiased and easy to understand.

CMIs include information such as:

  • what the medicine is used for and how it works
  • how to use it properly
  • potential side effects
  • interactions it might have with food or other medicines
  • what to do in the case of an overdose
  • how to store it properly.

Why are they so important?

Giving consumers reliable, credible and clear information about the medicines they are taking empowers people to have control over their bodies and their health, as well as the health and wellbeing of those they care for.

They are a very useful back-up to help people remember the advice provided to them by their doctor.

Consider these scenarios.

Johnno and his grandma

 Johnno is taking his grandmother, Faye, to the doctor to get new medication for her heart. She has been on a regime of medicines for several years that help her live quite independently, though she can’t drive anymore. Her doctor is kind, and knows the family well. She takes time with Faye – checks her blood-pressure, asks how she has been feeling, and writes out the script.

“You have to be mindful,” says the GP. “There are some things you can’t eat, and some things you can’t do, while you are using this medication. I will run through them now.”

Johnno and his grandmother listen to the rundown of instructions, but of course it’s hard to remember them all.

The GP says, “I’ll print out the Consumer Medicine Information for you – you can take it away and it will tell you everything you need to know. And of course, you can call me if there are any concerns.”

Johnno was very glad to have the CMI – he would have to help his grandmother to manage her medications, and between them both, and with the CMI, he felt better equipped to make sure Faye had the best health outcomes.

Sophie and Mia

Take Sophie and her little girl Mia. Sophie’s daughter had been sick for days. She’d hardly slept. She was worried. Her little girl had started with a cough, and developed asthma, high temperatures, and now had a rash.

She returned to the doctors – they gave her a cream, and told her to monitor her daughter’s temperature. By the time she got home, she could hardly remember what the GP had said. But thank goodness he had given her the CMI for the cream. Without it she would not have known to make sure it didn’t get near her older child, who was allergic to one of the ingredients.

Looking ahead

We want to ensure CMIs are meeting the needs of the population.

New improved CMIs are coming – simpler, clearer, more accessible.

We need more people to know more about CMIs – because the more you know, the more empowered you are to manage your medicines to reduce risks and maximise their benefits.