Background: Little is known about the prevalence and character of medication-related symptoms in primary care and their relationship to adverse drug events (ADEs) or about factors that affect patient-physician communication regarding medication symptoms.
Methods: The study included 661 patients who received prescriptions from physicians at 4 adult primary care practices. We interviewed patients 2 weeks and 3 months after the index visit, reviewed patients' medical records, and surveyed physicians whose patients identified medication-related symptoms. Physician reviewers determined whether medication symptoms constituted true ADEs. We used multivariable regression to examine factors associated with patients' decision to discuss symptoms with a physician and with physicians' decision to alter therapy.
Results: A total of 179 patients identified 286 medication-related symptoms but discussed only 196 (69%) with their physicians. Physicians changed therapy in response to 76% of reported symptoms. Patients' failure to discuss 90 medication symptoms resulted in 19 (21%) ameliorable and 2 (2%) preventable ADEs. Physicians' failure to change therapy in 48 cases resulted in 31 (65%) ameliorable ADEs. In multivariable analyses, patients who took more medications (odds ratio [OR] = 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.04-1.08; P<.001) and had multiple medication allergies (OR = 1.07; 95% CI = 1.03-1.11; P = .001) were more likely to discuss symptoms. Male physicians (OR = 1.20, 95% CI = 1.09-1.26; P = .002) and physicians at 2 practices were more likely to change therapy (OR = 1.24; 95% CI = 1.17-1.28; P<.001; and OR = 1.17; 95% CI = 1.08-1.24; P = .002).
Conclusion: Primary care physicians may be able to reduce the duration and/or the severity of many ADEs by eliciting and addressing patients' medication symptoms.