Objectives: 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.