• Article

Consumer confusion between prescription drug precautions and side effects

Objective: Multiple studies have identified consumers' difficulty correctly interpreting risk information provided about prescription drugs, whether in printed format or online. This study's purpose was to explore whether consumers can distinguish between prescription drug precautions and side effects presented on brand-name drug websites.

Methods: Participants (n = 873) viewed fictitious drug websites that presented both precautions and side effects for one of four drugs, and they completed a survey assessing recall and comprehension. We coded open-ended recall data to identify whether drug precautions were mentioned and, if so, how they were interpreted.

Results: Approximately 15% of participants mentioned at least one drug precaution. The majority (59.7%) misinterpreted precautions as potential side effects. Participants who misinterpreted precautions rated the drugs as significantly more likely to cause side effects than participants who accurately interpreted the precautions. Age, education, literacy, and other factors did not appear to predict precaution interpretation.

Conclusion: At least some consumers are likely to interpret precautions on drug websites as potential side effects, which might affect consumer preferences, treatment decisions, and medication safety.

Practice implications: Healthcare providers should be aware of this potential confusion, assess patients' understanding of precautions and potential side effects, and address any misunderstandings. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.


Amoozegar, J. B., Rupert, D. J., Sullivan, H. W., & O'Donoghue, A. C. (2017). Consumer confusion between prescription drug precautions and side effects. Patient Education and Counseling, 100(6), 1111-1119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2016.12.032

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