Are People Paying Attention to Drug Labels?

By , Category : Brain Function

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Drug LabelsDo you take prescription drugs? These days, most older adults do. The problem, of course, is that many come with uncomfortable and even dangerous side effects. Staying safe with pharmaceuticals means knowing as much as you can about them. A new study says pill bottle warning labels are nowhere near effective enough.

It found that four million Americans experience adverse reactions to prescription medications every year. Many of these reactions, ranging from mild rashes and drowsiness to hospitalization and death, could be avoided if warning labels were more effective.

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When patients are handed a new prescription, few read the critical warning labels such as “Do not consume alcohol while taking this medication” or “For external use only.” Using eye-tracking technology, researchers found that the labels did not do enough to capture attention. Do you read warning labels? This study found that only 50% of people looked at them directly and 22% didn’t look at all. While it should fall to the patient to understand a drug they are consuming, the researchers stress that we need a complete overhaul of the design and labeling of the pill bottles. They have been largely unchanged since they were first created 50 years ago.

First off, they say, we must move all of the warnings from the colored stickers to the main, white label — which every participant in their study did read.

This is of particular importance to older patients. Incredibly, more than three in 10 people over 65 takes 10 different medications a day. This obviously increases the possibilities of adverse reactions. Another issue is that fading eyesight and memory mean older adults are less likely to notice or remember warnings. Not surprisingly, more people who saw the stickers could recall them better,
suggesting that enhancing the labels’ noticeability is a key factor for remembering.

The results highlight the importance of how labels influence the attention process. The industry needs to improve effectiveness of labels by understanding how to control attention. They should probably talk to an ad agency on that front.

In the end, if you take multiple drugs a day, it is imperative to your health that you understand the possible side effects. As well, you must know what drugs, supplements and foods that the drug may react adversely with.




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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »