Is 15 per cent very common? Informing people about the risks of medication side effects
Berry, D. C., Knapp, P. R. and Raynor, D. K. (2002) Is 15 per cent very common? Informing people about the risks of medication side effects. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, 10 (3). pp. 145-151. ISSN 0961-7671
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Objectives - To assess the general public's interpretation of the verbal descriptors for side effect frequency recommended for use in medicine information leaflets by a European Union (EU) guideline, and to examine the extent to which differences in interpretation affect people's perception of risk and their judgments of intention to comply with the prescribed treatment. Method - Two studies used a controlled empirical methodology in which people were presented with a hypothetical, but realistic, scenario about visiting their general practitioner and being prescribed medication. They were given an explanation that focused on the side effects of the medicine, together with information about the probability of occurrence using either numerical percentages or the corresponding EU verbal descriptors. Interpretation of the descriptors was assessed. In study 2, participants were also required to make various judgments, including risk to health and intention to comply. Key findings - In both studies, use of the EU recommended descriptors led to significant overestimations of the likelihood of particular side effects occurring. Study 2 further showed that the "overestimation" resulted in significantly increased ratings of perceived severity of side effects and risk to health, as well as significantly reduced ratings of intention to comply, compared with those for people who received the probability information in numerical form. Conclusion - While it is recognised that the current findings require replication in a clinical setting, the European and national authorities should suspend the use of the EU recommended terms until further research is available to allow the use of an evidence-based approach.
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