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Patient Educ Couns. 2004 May;53(2):129-34.

Over the counter medicines and the need for immediate action: a further evaluation of European Commission recommended wordings for communicating risk.

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School of Psychology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AL, UK.


A study examined people's interpretation of European Commission (EC) recommended verbal descriptors for risk of medicine side effects, and actions to take if they do occur. Members of the general public were presented with a fictitious (but realistic) scenario about suffering from a stiff neck, visiting the local pharmacy and purchasing an over the counter (OTC) medicine (Ibruprofen). The medicine came with an information leaflet which included information about the medicine's side effects, their risk of occurrence, and recommended actions to take if adverse effects are experienced. Probability of occurrence was presented numerically (6%) or verbally, using the recommended EC descriptor (common). Results showed that, in line with findings of our earlier work with prescribed medicines, participants significantly overestimated side effect risk. Furthermore, the differences in interpretation were reflected in their judgements of satisfaction, side effect severity, risk to health, and intention to take the medicine. Finally, we observed no significant difference between people's interpretation of the recommended action descriptors ('immediately' and 'as soon as possible').

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