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Prescription labels geared toward pharmacies, not patients
Date:9/11/2007

The labels on most prescription drug containers highlight the pharmacys name or logo rather than instructions on how to take the medication, reports a new study in the September 10 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that 1.5 million medication errors occur each year in the United States and poor labeling is one cause of the mistakes. While the Food and Drug Administration has some standards on what prescription labels must include, few regulations guide the format of the information, said lead author William Shrank, M.D., of Brigham and Womens Hospital at Harvard Medical School

In the study, six pharmacies in four cities filled identically written prescriptions for four commonly prescribed medications. The pharmacies included the two largest chains, two grocery stores and two independent pharmacies.

Shrank, who is with the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, and colleagues evaluated 85 labels. The researchers found the pharmacy name or logo was the most prominent item on 84 percent of the labels, with an average 13.6-point font size. By comparison, the instructions averaged a 9.3-point size and medication names averaged an 8.9-point font. Warning stickers were in a much smaller, 6.5-point font on average.

Medical education guidelines explicitly suggest that font size must be 12 point or larger to optimize patients ability to read health information, according to the authors.

All of the labels listed the pharmacy name first, and instructions appeared fifth on 89 percent of labels. When color font or boldface was present, it was most often for pharmacy information rather than for instructions or warnings.

The authors suggest that one way to improve readability and patient understanding of labels is for FDA to initiate a national standard for their format and content much like it did with the Nutrition Facts labels required on food packaging.
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Contact: Lisa Esposito
hbns-editor@cfah.org
Center for the Advancement of Health
Source:Eurekalert

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