Drug Labels Need Overhaul: Study

By Amir Khan on July 5, 2012 10:23 AM EDT

Prescription Label
Many patients ignore drug warning labels that provide instructions on safe and effective use of their medications, according to a new study (Photo: USDHHS)

Many patients ignore drug warning labels that provide instructions on safe and effective use of their medications, according to a new study, published in the journal PLoS One on Wednesday. Drug labels need to be overhauled to get patient's attention, researchers said.

Researchers found that many patients, especially older ones, overlook warning labels because they don't attract attention. These warning labels often carry information about drug interactions or dosage information, according to the study.

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Researchers tracked patient's eye movements as they looked at a drug label and found that in participants over 50 years old, 50 percent did not notice the warning label. In contrast, 90 percent of participants between 20 and 29 years old noticed the warning label.

Approximately 15 million medication errors happen every year, according to the study, the majority of which happen at home when patients are responsible for managing their own prescriptions. Warning labels are intended to provide instructions of how to use the medication safely, and the fact that many people ignore them prove that drug labels need an overhaul, researchers said.

"These findings have implications for the design of prescription drug warning labels to improve their effectiveness, particularly as the U.S. government recently started to investigate approaches to standardize the format and content of these labels to decrease medication error rates," Nora Bello, study author and assistant professor of statistics at Kansas State University, said in a statement. "Results from this study can provide insight to assist debates about labeling designs that are most likely to impact a wide age range of consumers."

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