Open Access Research article

A descriptive review of the methodologies used in household surveys on medicine utilization

Andréa D Bertoldi123*, Aluísio JD Barros3, Anita Wagner4, Dennis Ross-Degnan4 and Pedro C Hallal3

Author Affiliations

1 Programa de pós-graduação em Saúde Coletiva, Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos, Brazil

2 Takemi Program in International Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, USA

3 Programa de Pós-graduação em Epidemiologia, Universidade Federal de Pelotas, Brasil

4 Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Boston, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2008, 8:222  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-8-222

Published: 31 October 2008



Studies carried out in the community enable researchers to understand access to medicines, affordability, and barriers to use from the consumer's point of view, and may stimulate the development of adequate medicines policies. The aim of the present article was to describe methodological and analytical aspects of quantitative studies on medicine utilization carried out at the household level.


Systematic review of original papers with data collected in studies in which the household was a sampling unit, published between 1995 and 2008. The electronic review was carried out in Medline/Pubmed, Scielo and Lilacs. The reference lists of the papers identified were examined, as well as other publications by their authors. Studies on the utilization of specific pharmacological groups, or those including only respondents with a given disease were excluded.


Out of 4852 papers initially identified in the literature search, 61 fulfilled our inclusion criteria. Most studies were carried out in Europe and North America and used a cross-sectional approach. More than 80% used face-to-face interviews for data collection, and the most frequently used recall period for assessing medicine utilization was 14–15 days. In 59% of the studies, interviewers were trained to request the packaging of the medicines reported by the subjects; medical prescriptions were requested less frequently (15% of the studies).


These data will be useful for updating researchers on what methods their peers are currently using. Such information may help overcome challenges in the planning and analyses of future studies. Moreover, this publication may contribute to the improvement of the quality of medicine use data obtained in household surveys.