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Consumer concerns about paracetamol: a retrospective analysis of a medicines call centre

Authors : Stephanie M Lau, Treasure M McGuire, Mieke L van Driel



To identify consumer information needs about paracetamol, the most commonly used analgesic and antipyretic worldwide.

Design Retrospective analysis of medicines questions from the public.

Setting Australian consumer medicines call centre.

Participants Callers to National Prescribing Service Medicines Line between September 2002 and June 2010 (n=123 217).

Main outcome measures

Enquiry profile: demographics, enquiry type and concurrent medicines included in paracetamol calls; question themes derived from subset of call narratives.


Paracetamol comprised part of the enquiry in 5.2% of calls (n=6367). The caller age distribution for paracetamol calls was skewed towards a younger cohort, with 45.2% made by those aged 25–44 vs 37.5% in ‘rest of calls’. Significantly more paracetamol-related calls were made for a child (23.7%) compared with ‘rest of calls’ (12.7%, p<0.001). The most frequent concurrently asked about medicines were codeine (11%, n=1521) and ibuprofen (6.4%, n=884). Questions underpinned by paracetamol risk (interaction, use in pregnancy/lactation or other safety concerns) predominated (55.8%). When individual paracetamol enquiry types were compared with ‘rest of calls’, efficacy was most frequent (24.9% vs 22.8%); however, interaction (21.5% vs 14.8%), administration (15.5% vs 11%) and pregnancy/lactation (13.8% vs 8.3%) categories were more prevalent for paracetamol calls (all p<0.001). Enquiry type frequency also varied by patient age group, with questions about administration more common in younger groups and efficacy dominating in those over 45. Narrative analysis of over-represented paracetamol enquiry types showed specific concerns relevant to life stages: young children, those of reproductive age and the elderly.


Consumers have many concerns about the use of paracetamol that may be under-recognised by healthcare providers, with the nature of enquiries differing across life stages. These concerns are not adequately addressed by available consumer information. Improving access to targeted information about paracetamol would promote the safe and effective use of this common medicine.

Citation: Stephanie M Lau, Treasure M McGuire, Mieke L van Driel Consumer concerns about paracetamol: a retrospective analysis of a medicines call centre BMJ Open 2016;6:e010860 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010860

Received: 14 December 2015 Revised: 15 April 2016 Accepted: 28 April 2016 Published: 8 June 2016

Copyright: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

Contributors TMM and MLvD provided supervision, and conceived and designed the study. SML conducted the literature review and data analysis. SML, TMM and MLvD interpreted the data, and drafted and critically revised the manuscript. SML, TMM and MLvD as guarantors accept full responsibility for the work and/or the conduct of the study; they had access to the data and controlled the decision to publish.

Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sector.

Competing interests None declared.

Ethics approval This study was approved by Mater Health Services Brisbane, Human Research Ethics Committee (LNR submission 2012-68) and University of Queensland School of Medicine Low Risk Ethical Review Committee (2014-SOMILRE-0098).

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