Rx Info: Reading Material or Scratch Paper?

Information leaflets can help patients be aware of medication reactions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

Does the leaflet that comes with your prescription usually go into the trash before you read it? New research highlights the importance of reading about your medicine to be aware of the risks of bad reactions to that medicine.

Researchers recently conducted a survey of over 1,000 people to see if they read the information leaflet that comes with their medication and whether they had had a negative reaction to their medications.

These researchers found that people rarely read all of the information that comes with each and every one of their medicines.

However, reading those leaflets is important. This study also found that people who read the pamphlets could better recognize a negative side effect of the medication they were taking, and then report it to a health professional.

"Read the patient information leaflets that come with your medications."

Janet Krska, PhD, of Medway School of Pharmacy, and Charles W. Morecroft, PhD, of Liverpool John Moores University, conducted this study to find out how people used the information available to them about their medicine.

Information about medications is provided to patients in part to help them avoid adverse drug reactions, or ADRs. ADRs sometimes occur when a medicine has a harmful effect on the patient at a normal dose.

ADRs vary significantly in terms of what causes them and how harmful they are to the patient. Some can be common and benign, others can be severe and possibly fatal.

In order to find out more about ADRs and patient information, the researchers looked at patient information leaflets and other medicine information sources. They also tried to see if there is a relationship between the likelihood of seeking information and the patient's perception of ADRs.

The researchers developed a questionnaire about patient information leaflets and other sources of information about medications. The questionnaire also included items about each patient's most recent suspected ADR.

The questionnaire was given to patients at six hospitals who were aged 18 years and over and prescribed at least two medications. In total, 1,218 questionnaires were completed.

About 74 percent of the patients surveyed said that they usually read the leaflet that comes with their medicine.

Less than half of the respondents said that they always read the patient information leaflets that come with all of their medicines, and about one-third said they only read it for new medicines.

Some reported reading the leaflets in part. "Possible side effects" and "how to take the medicine" were the two most commonly read portions of the leaflets.

The majority of the respondents never looked for more information about possible side effects. If they did look for more information, they most likely turned to health professionals and the internet.

More than half of the patients said that they thought they had experienced an ADR, primarily nausea, vomiting, dizziness and drowsiness.

Of the respondents who said they had a bad reaction to medicine, the majority said that they had read the patient information leaflet. About 36 percent read the patient information leaflet before the reaction happened and 18 percent read it after.

Most of the people who had an ADR reported it to a health professional.

The researchers concluded that patients should be encouraged to read the leaflets that come with their medicine.

When patients had more awareness about the risks of a medicine, they were more likely to be aware if they had experienced any side effects.

According to the study's authors, "[F]urther support may be needed to encourage all patients to read the patient information leaflets supplied with medicines."

This study was published in the August edition of Drug Safety.

It was funded by the Liverpool John Moores University. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 12, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013