Have you ever found the instructions on your prescription bottle confusing? You’re not alone. Almost half of people who take medication say they’ve been confused by a label. In Wisconsin, for example, a survey showed that nearly 23% said the problem caused them to take medication incorrectly, says Steve Sparks, director of the nonprofit Wisconsin Health Literacy.
The reasons: vague instructions (“Take as directed”), lowercase letters, and difficulty coordinating dosages of several drugs. Sparks says, “You wouldn’t believe how many people say, ‘I take five drugs, each of them has a different schedule and I can’t keep up with them – so I take them all in the morning.’ “
But efforts are underway to simplify prescription labels and facilitate schedule management. Wisconsin Health Literacy has worked with patients to design new labels, which are being rolled out at many pharmacies across the state. The most important information is at the top in a large bold font, including the names of the patient and the drug.
Sparks calls the labels “a critical line of defense against medication errors and adverse drug reactions.”
CVS is in the process of introducing its new ScriptPath prescription labels, which the company hopes will be available at all of its more than 9,700 pharmacies across the country by mid-summer. “Our goal is to be clear about when and how customers should take their medications,” says Kevin Hourican, president of CVS Pharmacy, the company’s retail business.
The Department of Veterans Affairs introduced simpler standardized drug labels in 2013, with clear instructions at the top and the drug name in bold and highlighted in yellow. The VA used the contribution of veterans to make them “easy to read, intuitive and more secure,” says Douglas Paull, MD, acting director of the VA’s National Center for Patient Safety.
The changes in both Wisconsin and the VA are in line with the latest patient-friendly recommendations from the nonprofit US Pharmacopeia (USP) advisory group, which sets recommendations for prescription labeling. Each state has its own specific requirements, which focus primarily on what the labels should say but not on the clarity of that content.
Many pharmacies offer services to facilitate the taking of medication.
Federal law requires pharmacies to make reasonable efforts to provide translation services for prescription instructions, but they are often very limited. California is one of the few states with more stringent regulations, requiring pharmacies to offer instructions in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, or Russian upon request.
At Walgreens, customers can request larger print, easier to read prescription instructions. Rite Aid offers “large font size” labels.
Walgreens pharmacists will record audio instructions for people with visual impairments. An audio device is attached to the medication vial.