Background: Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are common, and information about medicines is increasingly widely available to the public. However, relatively little work has explored how people use medicines information to help them assess symptoms that may be suspected ADRs.
Objective: Our objective was to determine how patients use patient information leaflets (PILs) or other medicines information sources and whether information use differs depending on experiences of suspected ADRs.
Method: This was a cross-sectional survey conducted in six National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in North West England involving medical in-patients taking at least two regular medicines prior to admission. The survey was administered via a questionnaire and covered use of the PIL and other medicines information sources, perceived knowledge about medicines risks/ADRs, experiences of suspected ADRs, plus demographic information.
Results: Of the 1,218 respondents to the survey, 18.8 % never read the PIL, whilst 6.5 % only do so if something unexpected happens. Educational level was related to perceived knowledge about medicines risks, but not to reading the PIL or seeking further information about medicines risks. Over half the respondents (56.0 %) never sought more information about possible side effects of medicines. A total of 57.2 % claimed they had experienced a suspected ADR. Of these 85.9 % were either very sure or fairly sure this was a reaction to a medicine. Over half of those experiencing a suspected ADR (53.8 %) had read the PIL, of whom 36.2 % did so before the suspected ADR occurred, the remainder afterwards. Reading the PIL helped 84.8 % of these respondents to decide they had experienced an ADR. Educational level, general knowledge of medicines risks and number of regular medicines used all increased the likelihood of experiencing an ADR.
Conclusion: More patients should be encouraged to read the PIL supplied with medicines. The results support the view that most patients feel knowledgeable about medicines risks and suspected ADRs and value information about side effects, but that reading about side effects in PILs or other medicines information sources does not lead to experiences of suspected ADRs.