For each drug there is a balance between risk and benefit, but how that balance is struck varies. The licensing authority considers the health implications for the population exposed; for the patient the assessment relates to the outlook for the individual; prescribers need to reconcile both approaches and in doing so must satisfy the patient's right to choose whether to take the treatment. Problems arise if the doctor and patient fail to communicate, if risk:benefit data are not available or if the patient's perception of risk or benefit differs from that of the doctor. These topics, together with a view of risks and benefits from the pharmaceutical industry, were considered at the recent Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin symposium entitled "The Risk:Benefit Analysis of Drugs in Practice". In this article we summarise key points and opinions raised in talks and discussion as they relate to the Committee on Safety of Medicines (addressed by Professor Michael Rawlins), drug manufacturers (Dr Karen Summers), the prescriber (Dr Janine Mansi, Professor Larry Ramsay and Dr Isabel Sanderson) and the consumer (Professor Richard Eiser and Dame Rachel Waterhouse).
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