Adverse Drug Events and Prescription Warning Labels

drug recalls/seniors and prescription drugs

How Effective are Prescription Drug Labels?

A study done by PLoSone investigated the effectiveness of prescription warning labels (PWLs).  The PWLs are the brightly colored stickers on prescription bottles.  The study wanted to see the difference, if any, between how young adults and seniors (50+) responded to the warnings.

The study evaluated early stages of information processing by tracking eye movements while the participants where reading the PWLs.  The participants were then later tested on recognition memory for the PWLs.

The study found that participants often failed to even read the PWLs, and this was more pronounced for the older participants rather than the younger.  The older participants that did read the prescription warning labels, later had a harder time remembering them than the younger group did.

When participants were made to read the PWLs, the ones that fixated on the labels did better on memory test, regardless of age.  This is important information because it suggests that difference in memory performance between groups was related more to attention rather than memory recall.   The data provides a case that understanding consumers’ attentive behavior is important to developing effective labeling standards for prescription drugs.

Medscape (6/21, Laidman) reports on the study that “brightly colored warning labels on medication bottles failed to attract much attention from older potential patients, suggesting that labeling standards should be revised to be more effective.” Medscape quotes Laura Bix, associate professor in Michigan State University’s School of Packaging, as saying, “Given our results, we are recommending a complete overhaul of the design and labeling of the ubiquitous amber bottles, which have seen little change since their introduction some 50 years ago.”

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