Patient reporting of potential adverse drug reactions: a methodological study

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2002 Mar;53(3):318-25. doi: 10.1046/j.0306-5251.2001.01547.x.


Aims: To develop a systematic generic method of enabling patients to report symptoms which they believe to be due to a particular prescribed drug.

Methods: A piloted body system-based questionnaire was distributed to patients registered with 79 medical practices in Grampian prescribed one of nine recently marketed 'black triangle' drugs. These comprised four antidepressants, three antiepileptics and two analgesics. This requested respondents to identify any symptoms experienced over the previous year which they thought could be due to the 'black triangle' drug they had used. A sample of medical records was examined to compare symptoms recorded with those reported by patients. A classification system was developed for the study to enable the assessment of symptoms reported for their potential relationship to patients' drug therapy. All symptoms reported were classified, taking into account information provided by patients on their concomitant drugs and diseases. A specialist pharmacist independently re-classified a sample of the symptoms to validate the process.

Results: A 36.3% response rate was obtained (837/2307) with 742 respondents (88.6%) reporting at least one symptom. The median per patient was 6.0 (range 0--71), with almost half (406, 48.5%) reporting fewer than five symptoms. Most symptoms (71.0%) were classified as being probably or possibly related to the drugs studied. Agreement between researcher and specialist on the classification of 75.3% of 716 symptoms was obtained (Kappa=0.563). Responses from patients prescribed antidepressant drugs were more likely to include symptoms potentially caused by these drugs (74.5% of all symptoms reported) than those from patients prescribed analgesics (67.4%) or antiepileptics (65.1%, chi2 = 23.858, d.f. = 2, P < 0.001). Patients reporting large numbers of symptoms were more likely to report some which were classed as unlikely to be an ADR or unattributable (chi2 = 80.587, d.f. = 3, P < 0.001). Of the 742 reporting symptoms in questionnaires, 402 (54.2%) claimed to have reported some or all of these to their doctor. Only 162 (22.6%) of 716 patient-reported symptoms were documented in the primary care medical records of 103 patients prescribed tramadol or venlafaxine.

Conclusions: Respondents were clearly willing to report symptoms, the majority of which were classed as possibly/probably related to the drugs studied. The results suggest that patients do not report all symptoms they suspect to be ADRs to their GP and that GPs do not record all symptoms which may be reported to them. The method could help to identify problems which patients perceive as being related to their drug therapy and contribute to increased ADR reporting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*