Inconsistent, hard-to-read labels can create unforeseen dangers.
When you think of misusing prescription medications, you probably assume any misuse (or abuse) is intentional. But here's a scary fact: Accidentally taking your pills wrong is probably a lot more common than you might expect, thanks to labels that aren't clear enough. The University of Waterloo and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind recently examined the labels printed on prescription medications dispensed by pharmacies and found that they "do not consistently follow professionally recommended guidelines for legibility." According to the study's researchers, few guidelines and no regulations currently exist for prescription label printing, and yet the effects of illegible labeling-tiny print, overly crowded instructions, and inconsistencies in the location of information on prescription drug labels-could be disastrous.
Taking a medication improperly can mean uncomfortable side effects, a reduction in the efficacy of the drug, or even a visit to the ER in some cases.
The study, which asked 45 pharmacies in southwestern Ontario to print a sample prescription label, with patient name, drug name and dosage instructions provided by researchers, found these results:
- Ninety percent of labels followed the guidelines for font style, contrast, print color and non-glossy paper
- Only 44 percent of the medication instructions met the minimum guideline of 12-point print size, the minimum for optimal legibility, according to the study's authors
- None of the drug or patient names met the 12-point font standard
- Only 5 percent of the labels were judged to make the best use of space (read: overly crowded information), which is crucial for readability, especially for those with diminished eyesight
- Only 51 percent used left alignment, recommended for legibility
- None of the instructions were in sentence case, as is recommended
- There was a major lack of consistency in the location of information, such as patient's name or drug name
Clearly, a patient with poor eyesight could easily take the wrong dosage, improperly mix drugs, or even take pills intended for someone else in their family-and even those with 20/20 vision risk misreading or overlooking critical instructions.
"You have to remember many people are taking two or three medications or more even," lead study author Susan Leat, Ph.D., pointed out to The Canadian Press. "Some are taking up to 15 different medications a day." The more illegible pill bottles in your medicine cabinet, the greater risk of misuse you run. And that can be a serious problem-just take a look at this list of 4 drug combinations that can be accidentally lethal to see what we mean.
Thanks to this research, new guidelines and regulations for label size, font size and color, sentence alignment, and highlighting may be on their way, and researchers expect labeling standards to move from pharmacy-focused to patient-focused.
Until then, ensure that you're reading and rereading all your personal prescription labels for critical drug and dosage information. Remind friends and loved ones, especially older adults or anyone with diminished eyesight, to look over instructions very carefully, or ask for help with hard-to-read label.
Courtesy of Women's Health