The number of potentially harmful pill organisers dispensed by community pharmacies almost trebled over 15 years, according to researchers.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) study, published today (8 August), surveyed 41 independent community pharmacies and 39 multiples in England in 2015.

The study found that an estimated 273,529 medication compliance aids (MCAs) were given out to patients living in their own home, compared with an estimated 100,000 in 2001. Independent community pharmacies dispensed an average of 18 MCAs per month.

England’s ageing population may be a reason behind the increase, according to the study.

However, a previous study showed that switching to using an MCA ‘can do more harm than good’, the UEA said.


‘Serious health complications’


Lead researcher Dr Debi Bhattacharya said: ‘Our [previous] research showed that patients were more likely to become unwell when they switched from taking their medication straight from the packet to using a pill organiser. In some cases, older people can even end up being hospitalised.

‘This is likely because when the patients had been taking their medication sporadically, they weren’t getting the expected health improvements. Their doctor may therefore have increased the dose of the medication to try to get the desired effect.’

She added that patients might begin to experience side effects when they start taking their medication as prescribed and consequently stop taking all their pills because they can’t tell which one to miss, leading to ‘serious health complications’.


New guidance


The new study found that almost four in ten (39%) respondents cited a lack of time as a barrier to MCA initiation and a fifth (20%) cited insufficient or absent remuneration.

It added: ‘Beyond considering the practicalities of whether an MCA is suitable for a patient, there is limited evidence of pharmacists considering patient choice or risk of adverse events arising from sudden increased adherence.

‘There is therefore an urgent need to develop and validate an assessment tool to guide safe and appropriate MCA initiation.’

To coincide with the publication of the study, the researchers have released new guidance to help pharmacists and prescribers decide whether an MCA is suitable for a patient.

The guidance, endorsed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the Royal College of Physicians, aims to signpost healthcare professionals to other potential solutions such as easy-open medicine bottles or coloured labelling.