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The authors determined patients' report of prescription drug counseling activities after withdrawal of the pilot program to require patient package inserts in 1980 and implementation of Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 counseling requirements in 1993.Four cross-sectional national telephone surveys were conducted in the fall of 1982, 1984, 1992, and 1994. Telephone households were chosen by random-digit dialing. Subjects had obtained a new prescription for themselves or for a family member at a retail pharmacy during the previous 4 weeks. Verbal counseling rates at physician offices and pharmacies for five information categories and the distribution of written information at those locations were determined.Spontaneous verbal counseling at the physician's office has increased slightly, with the largest increases focused on the delivery of side effect and precautionary information. Slightly larger increases in pharmacy-delivered information regarding directions for use and precautions have occurred. Patient questioning has remained at single digit levels at both sites. The percentage of patients receiving any written information has increased from 5% to 15% at the physician's office and from 16% to 59% at the pharmacy.The data indicate small increases in verbal counseling but larger increases in the delivery of written information provided at the pharmacy. In light of Healthy People: 2000 goals for patient counseling and legislation encouraging private-sector initiatives, these data should help to refocus attention on the continuing need for effective patient education interventions.