THE first edition of the Australian Medicines Handbook is the culmination of seven years’ planning and hard work. The need for an independent and up-to-date source of drug information to foster rational prescribing in Australia has long been discussed. In February 1991, the Consumer Health Forum and the Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists convened a meeting to discuss how drug prescribing in Australia might be improved. Representatives of prescribers and pharmacists, teachers of pharmacology and therapeutics, government and consumer groups attended the meeting. There was unanimous agreement that Australia should develop a national formulary, like the British National Formulary, which since 1981 has achieved a reputation as an indispensable and widely used source of independent drug information.
The task of developing a national formulary, to be called the Australian Medicines Handbook, was ultimately taken by three organizations: the Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. These organizations obtained a grant from the Commonwealth Department of Health and Human Services in 1995 to produce a hard copy of the first edition of the Handbook. Work began on the content in 1996. Whilst modelled on the concept of the British National Formulary, the Handbook was to be totally Australian and its contents were to reflect contemporary Australian clinical practice. To this end, the editors recruited a large number of expert reviewers from all disciplines and all parts of the country.
SERVING READERS’ NEEDS
The philosophy of the Australian Medicines Handbook is to use the best available evidence to support prescribing and dispensing recommendations, and thus the publication actively discourages the use of drugs where the evidence for their efficacy is lacking or poor. The purpose of the Handbook is two-fold: firstly, to provide a readily accessible, concise, up-to-date source of independent drug information to facilitate effective, rational, safe and economical prescribing and dispensing; secondly, to provide an educational tool for practitioners and students. Readers are likely to use the formulary in different ways. Students might want to read a whole chapter to learn about a drug class, whilst prescribers might want to focus only on specific information, such as the dosage or the common adverse effects of a drug.
The first 20 chapters contain information which provides, in part, a theoretical framework for the reader to use the individual drug monographs. These monographs are organized within chapters, each of which represents an organ system, and the major therapeutic drug classes within the system. Comparative information about different drugs within the same class, or for other drugs for the same indication, is highlighted so that the reader can make an informed choice about the most appropriate drug to use. Since a book of this size cannot be exhaustive, the writers and members of the editorial advisory panels have included only that material which they consider to be the most relevant and useful for rapid reference by the busy health professional. The Handbook should be supplemented, where necessary, by more comprehensive texts and by the manufacturer’s product information. It will complement existing publications, such as the journal, Australian Prescriber, and the Therapeutic Guidelines series (see EDM-24 Published Lately).
Future editions of the Australian Medicines Handbook will be published annually and all relevant material updated. The next edition will be expanded to contain information on fluids, electrolytes and nutritional agents; anti cancer drugs; and emergency drugs; and will provide more expansive information on anaesthetics and psychiatric drugs. An electronic version will be available later in 1998.
The three organizations participating in this project have high expectations of the Handbook. Firstly, the independent evidence-based material it contains should enable practitioners to make informed choices for their patients, which will improve outcomes, reduce unwanted drug effects and provide value for money. Secondly, students should be able to use the formulary to acquire a strong grounding in therapeutics as undergraduates and to continue to use it when they become practitioners. Finally, the Handbook can become an important vehicle for enhancing the quality use of medicines in Australia to the benefit of all.
Australian Medicines Handbook Pty Ltd, PO Box 240, Rundle Mall, Adelaide SA 5000 Australia. Tel: + 61 8 82225861, fax + 61 8 82225863, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and homepage: http://www.amh.net.au Price: AUS$125 and AUS$85 for students.