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Brief Report
March 27, 2019

Assessment of Topical Corticosteroid Prescribing, Counseling, and Communication Among Dermatologists and Pharmacists

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, Marshfield Clinic Health System–Marshfield Campus, Marshfield, Wisconsin
JAMA Dermatol. 2019;155(7):838-843. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.5353
Key Points

Question  Do dermatologists and pharmacists differ in their perceptions and counseling practices when instructing patients on topical corticosteroid use?

Findings  In this survey study of 52 dermatologists and 111 pharmacists, discordance in topical corticosteroid beliefs and counseling practices was detected. More pharmacists advised patients to limit the duration of topical corticosteroid use, and differing adverse effects were emphasized in counseling.

Meaning  Further investigation, collaborative education, and improved communication are needed between dermatologists and pharmacists to ensure that patients are receiving accurate and unified topical corticosteroid counseling.


Importance  Topical corticosteroids (TCs) are common treatments for many dermatologic conditions. Anecdotal experience and literature suggest that dermatologists and pharmacists differ in their beliefs about TCs and approach to TC counseling, creating the opportunity for patient confusion.

Objective  To examine interprofessional practice gaps between dermatologists and pharmacists with regard to how each group views TCs, counsels patients on TC use, and communicates modifications to TC prescriptions.

Design, Setting, and Participants  An electronic survey was disseminated statewide in Wisconsin to 117 board-certified or eligible dermatologist members of the Wisconsin Dermatological Society and 2954 licensed pharmacists. The survey was performed from October 11, 2017, to January 2, 2018. Survey responses and demographic information were compiled and analyzed for each population.

Exposures  Study participants completed and returned a 17-question survey recalling experiences with TC prescribing from the past year along with self-reported demographic information.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Dermatologists’ and pharmacists’ self-reported counseling of patients regarding TC application, duration of use, and adverse effects; frequency of communication of changes to TC prescriptions and instructions; and demographic data were tabulated and compared.

Results  Of the 117 dermatologists, 52 (44.4%) completed and returned the survey; of the 2954 pharmacists, 111 (3.8%) returned the survey. Those no longer in active practice (3 dermatologists, 1 pharmacist) were excluded from analysis. A substantial proportion of pharmacists (51 [46.4%]) advised patients to limit TC use to 2 weeks or less, which was an uncommon strategy among dermatologists (3 [6.1%]) (P < .001). Discordance also was noted in the adverse effects that are emphasized in counseling, pharmacist-perceived and dermatologist-observed adverse effects in patients, and resources that inform counseling content. Only 8 (16.3%) dermatologists perceived that pharmacists made no unauthorized modifications to their TC prescriptions or instructions; however, 77 (70.0%) pharmacists reported not doing so (P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance  An interprofessional practice gap appears to exist between dermatologists and pharmacists in Wisconsin regarding TC beliefs and counseling strategies. Collaborative education and improved communication between the 2 groups may be necessary to ensure that patients receive a unified, clear message about TC application and adverse effects. Larger studies are needed to further investigate this potential practice gap.

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