The Effect of Television and Print News Stories on the Nocebo Responding Following a Generic Medication Switch


  • Kate MacKrill
  • Greg D. Gamble
  • Keith Petrie Orcid


Background: Following a nationwide switch to a generic antidepressant, a series of negative media stories publicised the experiences of some patients having side effects following the switch. This occurred first in print media and five months later it occurred again in television news. In this study we examined the effect of television news stories compared to print stories on adverse drug reaction reporting. We also examined the change in reporting rate of specific side effects mentioned in the TV news bulletins.
Method: Using an interrupted time series analysis of data from a national adverse reactions database, we compared the number of adverse reaction reports after the print and television coverage and the changes in reporting rate of side effects mentioned and not mentioned in TV news stories.
Results: We found a significant increase in adverse reaction reports following TV news items that discussed patients’ reports of side effects following the medication switch (interruption effect = 73.25, p = .046). The reporting rate of symptoms mentioned in the TV news bulletins also increased, in particular suicidal thoughts (interruption effect = 23.60, p = .031). The effect of TV stories on adverse reaction reports was 211% greater than the print articles.
Conclusions: Television stories have a much stronger effect than print media on nocebo responding and specific symptoms mentioned in the bulletins have a direct influence on the type of side effects subsequently reported. Media guidelines should be developed to reduce the negative public health effects of media coverage following medication switches.