Physicians just as confused as patients with 'overwarning' drug labels

If sometimes it seems the cure can be worse than the disease, with all the possible side effects that accompany prescription drugs, it turns out that your physician is probably just as confused as you are. With an average of 70 reactions per drug, doctors are overwhelmed when trying to pick proper treatments for their patients, according to a study appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers from the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis and the Indiana University School of Medicine wore out their fingers and toes counting all the side-effects listed on more than 5,600 drug labels. They found that the average label listed 70 side-effects. If you count only the most-commonly prescribed drugs, that number goes up to 100 side-effects on average. The very highest was 525 reactions for a single drug.

"Having a high number of side effects on a drug's label should not suggest that the drug is unsafe. In fact, much of this labeling has less to do with true toxicity than with protecting manufacturers from potential lawsuits," lead author Jon Duke said in a news release. "But having all these labeled side effects can overwhelm doctors who must weigh the risks and benefits when prescribing a medication."

Duke, however, says he is optimistic that things will change. Of course, there is no way to stop all the information from coming in on medication. Information, itself, is a good thing. But, perhaps, some technology can intervene to simply cut to the chase for each individual patient. "With current technology, drug labels could be transformed from lengthy static documents to dynamic resources, capable of delivering personalized patient information," Duke said in the release. "Such labels could take into account the individual patient's medical conditions and highlight those side effects that could be especially dangerous."

- read the news release from Indiana University
- and an extract (abstract not available) from the Archives of Internal Medicine