Communicating risk of medication side effects: an empirical evaluation of EU recommended terminology
Berry, D.C., Knapp, P. and Raynor, D.K. (2003) Communicating risk of medication side effects: an empirical evaluation of EU recommended terminology. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 8 (3). pp. 251-263. ISSN 1354-8506
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1080/1354850031000135704
Two experiments compared people's interpretation of verbal and numerical descriptions of the risk of medication side effects occurring. The verbal descriptors were selected from those recommended for use by the European Union (very common, common, uncommon, rare, very rare). Both experiments used a controlled empirical methodology, in which nearly 500 members of the general population were presented with a fictitious (but realistic) scenario about visiting the doctor and being prescribed medication, together with information about the medicine's side effects and their probability of occurrence. Experiment 1 found that, in all three age groups tested (18 - 40, 41 - 60 and over 60), participants given a verbal descriptor (very common) estimated side effect risk to be considerably higher than those given a comparable numerical description. Furthermore, the differences in interpretation were reflected in their judgements of side effect severity, risk to health, and intention to comply. Experiment 2 confirmed these findings using two different verbal descriptors (common and rare) and in scenarios which described either relatively severe or relatively mild side effects. Strikingly, only 7 out of 180 participants in this study gave a probability estimate which fell within the EU assigned numerical range. Thus, large scale use of the descriptors could have serious negative consequences for individual and public health. We therefore recommend that the EU and National authorities suspend their recommendations regarding these descriptors until a more substantial evidence base is available to support their appropriate use.