In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Laura Bix of Michigan State University explains efforts to increase the visibility of warning labels on medication.
Laura Bix is a professor of healthcare, universal design, and biomechanics at Michigan State University. Her research is focused on quantifying the interface between people and packaging in order to both aid utility and prevent medication errors. She holds a Ph.D. from Michigan State University.
Dr. Laura Bix – Medication Labeling
It has been estimated that 1.5 million medication errors occur annually in the U.S., and that a majority of them are in the outpatient setting. This is largely because it is up to the patient to use the information provided to safely and effectively administer a prescription product. Many of these reactions, ranging from mild rashes and drowsiness to hospitalization and death, could be attributed to warning labels that are often overlooked.
Using eye-tracking technology, we found that one source of the labels’ ineffectiveness is its inability to capture a patient’s attention. Specifically, only 50 percent of participants we studied looked directly at every warning label when we handed them five vials in succession, and 22 percent did not look at any of the five. Given that these labels were developed as a quick highlight of the most important information for the safe and effective use of medications, there is significant room for improvement.
The impact of this study could be especially beneficial to older adults. Older people are the group most likely to take medicine improperly, with Americans over 60 accounting for 40 percent of adverse drug reaction cases and 51 percent of deaths from drug reactions. In our study, older participants were less likely to both notice and remember the information on warning labels when compared with their younger counterparts. Not surprisingly, more people who saw the stickers could recall them better. When we conditionalized memory on whether or not the participants viewed the labels, this age related difference disappeared. This suggests that enhancing the labels’ noticeability is a key factor in effective labeling for older patients, in particular.
Future research will focus on recommendations for optimizing the design of medical labels for prescription vials, which have seen few changes since their introduction nearly 50 years ago.