Article Text

Impact of television coverage on the number and type of symptoms reported during a health scare: a retrospective pre–post observational study
  1. Kate Faasse1,
  2. Greg Gamble2,
  3. Tim Cundy2,
  4. Keith J Petrie1
  1. 1Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. 2Department of Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Professor Keith Petrie, kj.petrie{at}


Objectives This study investigated the impact of television news coverage on total adverse event reporting rates 1 month before and after the bulletins during a medication health scare. We further investigated whether individual side effects mentioned in each bulletin were reflected in the adverse event reports following the coverage.

Design A retrospective pre–post observational study.

Setting New Zealand Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring.

Participants Adverse events reported from May to December 2008 relating to Eltroxin formulation change.

Primary and secondary outcome measures Primary outcome measure was the total rate of adverse event reporting per day. Secondary outcome measure was the rate of reporting of seven individual symptoms mentioned in the television coverage.

Results After story 1, a significant increase in total reporting rates was evident (MdnPre=0, MdnPost=13.5, U=2, p<0.001, r=−0.86) with larger effect sizes for increases in television-mentioned symptoms. Story 2 also showed a significant increase in total adverse event reporting (MdnPre=6, MdnPost=18.5, U=86.5, p=0.002, r=−0.49) driven by significant increases only in television-reported symptoms. Story 3 did not result in a significant increase in total reporting (MdnPre=12; MdnPost=15.5, U=171, p=0.432, r=−0.12), and showed a significant increase in reporting rates for only one of the two television-reported symptoms.

Conclusions The findings suggest that television news coverage can impact on the overall rate of adverse event reporting during a health scare, in part via increased reporting of media-mentioned side effects. The effects of television media coverage on adverse event reporting appear strongest for earlier reports.

  • Mass media
  • Television
  • nocebo
  • symptoms

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Supplementary materials

  • Supplementary Data

    This web only file has been produced by the BMJ Publishing Group from an electronic file supplied by the author(s) and has not been edited for content.