The risks/benefits balance of hormone replacement therapy is controversial. Information can influence consumers' knowledge and behavior; research findings about hormone replacement therapy are uncertain and the messages provided by the media are of poor quality and incomplete, preventing a fully informed decision making process.
We therefore felt that an explicit, rigorous and structured assessment of the information needs on this issue was urgent and we opted for the organisation of a national consensus conference (CC) to assess the current status of the quality of information on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and re-visit recent research findings on its risks/benefits.
We chose a structured approach based on the traditional CC method combined with a structured preparatory work supervised by an organising committee (OC) and a scientific board (SB). The OC and SB chose the members of the CC's jury and appointed three multidisciplinary working groups (MWG) which were asked to review clinical issues and different aspects of the quality of information. Before the CC, the three MWGs carried out: a literature review on the risk/benefit profile of HRT and two surveys on the quality of information on lay press and booklets targeted to women. A population survey on women's knowledge, attitude and practice was also carried out. The jury received the documents in advance, listened the presentations during the two-day meeting of the CCs, met immediately after in a closed-door meeting and prepared the final document. Participants were researchers, clinicians, journalists as well as consumers' representatives.
Key messages in the CC's deliberation were: a) women need to be fully informed about the transient nature of menopausal symptoms, about HRT risks and benefits and about the availability of non-pharmacological interventions; b) HRT is not recommended to prevent menopausal symptoms; c) the term "HRT" is misleading and "post menopausal hormone therapy" should be the preferred definition.
This CC led to the identification of specific information drawbacks. Women are exposed to messages that are often partial, non evidence-based nor transparently developed. The structured and participative methodology of this CC allowed a multidisciplinary perspective and a substantial lay people input.