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Fam Pract. 2002 Jun;19(3):236-41.

Demand, appropriateness and prescribing of 'lifestyle drugs': a consultation survey in general practice.

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  • 1GKT Department of General Practice and Primary Care, Kings College London, 5 Lambeth Walk, London SE11 6SP, UK.



The simultaneous launch of orlistat and sildenafil in 1998 provoked much media attention, particularly around the role of lifestyle drugs and their potential costs if controls were not established. Fears were also expressed that primary care would be overwhelmed by demand, and little information was available about the attitude of GPs to their new role as prescribers of lifestlye drugs. Partly in response to these concerns, tight prescribing guidelines and licensed indications, for sildenafil and orlistat, respectively, were issued.


Our aim was to describe levels of demand for orlistat and sildenafil in general practice, whether this demand was translated into a prescription, adherence to prescribing guidelines/licensed indications and the GP perception of appropriateness of an NHS prescription for either of these drugs.


We carried out an observational study in primary care conducted over a 6-week period during 1999. Twenty-seven GPs were recruited, each from a different practice. All GP consultations were recorded for the study period and the GP completed a structured questionnaire each time sildenafil or orlistat were discussed in a consultation.


Sildenafil was discussed in 0.5% (68/13 394) of consultations and orlistat in 0.3% (42/13 394). GPs thought that a corresponding NHS prescription would be highly appropriate in 57 and 74% of cases, respectively, although for both lifestyle drugs, nearly 20% of GPs thought such prescriptions were inappropriate. An NHS prescription was issued in 43% of consultations in which sildenafil had been discussed and 33% in which orlistat had been discussed. Five out of 29 NHS sildenafil prescriptions were issued to patients failing to fulfil the requirements of prescribing guidelines; similarly, one out of 14 orlistat prescriptions fell outside licensed indications. There were four examples of NHS prescriptions for sildenafil which were given even when the GP thought the drug to be inappropriate, whereas orlistat was never given when the GP thought it inappropriate.


Levels of demand for the two lifestyle drugs, sildenafil and orlistat, were modest when compared with earlier media predictions. Neither was there evidence that GP was pitted against patient in their negotiation concerning a lifestyle drug NHS prescription since most GPs agreed with their patients that such a prescription was appropriate. Prescribing guidelines and licensed indications were generally adhered to, but the modest level of demand raises questions about expanding the guidelines for sildenafil.

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