This review examines the effectiveness of detection methods in terms of their ability to identify and accurately determine medication-related problems in hospitals. A search was conducted of databases from inception to June 2012. The following keywords were used in combination: medication error or adverse drug event or adverse drug reaction, comparison, detection, hospital and method. Seven detection methods were considered: chart review, claims data review, computer monitoring, direct care observation, interviews, prospective data collection and incident reporting. Forty relevant studies were located. Detection methods that were better able to identify medication-related problems compared with other methods tested in the same study included chart review, computer monitoring, direct care observation and prospective data collection. However, only small numbers of studies were involved in comparisons with direct care observation (n = 5) and prospective data collection (n = 6). There was little focus on detecting medication-related problems during various stages of the medication process, and comparisons associated with the seriousness of medication-related problems were examined in 19 studies. Only 17 studies involved appropriate comparisons with a gold standard, which provided details about sensitivities and specificities. In view of the relatively low identification of medication-related problems with incident reporting, use of this method in tracking trends over time should be met with some scepticism. Greater attention should be placed on combining methods, such as chart review and computer monitoring in examining trends. More research is needed on the use of claims data, direct care observation, interviews and prospective data collection as detection methods.