Image of Derjung Tarn M.D., Ph.D.

Clinicians may want to put intentional emphasis on drug side effects when prescribing new medications to older patients, according to a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Investigators queried 81 patients aged 50 and older who had received new presciption medications from their clinician during an outpatient office visit.

Patients had good retention of the information overall. They correctly identified the number of pills, dose, frequency and duration of use, whether the clinician mentioned the information or not, for 70% of new drugs prescribed. But for 55% of drugs for which side effects were not conveyed and 22% for which physicians did discuss side effects, patients later reported that the medication had no side effects, reported first author Derjung Tarn M.D., Ph.D. 

An analysis of the transcribed office visits showed three key potential reasons for this finding:

  • failure of physicians to mention or to use the term “side effects”;
  • prescription of multiple medications during the visit; and
  • lack of patient engagement in the conversation.

“It may be sufficient for physicians to provide written information about medication directions and dosing, and tailor their limited time to discussing medication side effects,” Tarn and colleagues concluded.

Full findings were published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.