Like it or not, expanded use of prescription medications is a key component of modern health care.
While many medications have significantly improved physical and mental health, individuals are often unaware that the drugs can possess a dark side as approximately 15 million medication errors occur in the United States each year.
Experts say many of the errors are the result of individuals failing to read and pay attention to the drug warning labels as the information is critical for safe and effective use of the drugs.
Consumers, particularly older ones, often overlook prescription drug warning labels in part because the labels fail to attract attention, said Nora Bello, an assistant professor of statistics at Kansas State University.
In the study, Bello and experts in packaging and psychology found that prescription drug warning labels fail to capture patients’ attention, impairing the communication of important safety information.
The research is published in PLoS ONE.
“These findings have implications for the design of prescription drug warning labels to improve their effectiveness, particularly as the U.S. government recently started to investigate approaches to standardize the format and content of these labels to decrease medication error rates,” Bello said.
“Results from this study can provide insight to assist debates about labeling designs that are most likely to impact a wide age range of consumers.”
Medication errors usually happen at home where patients are responsible for complying with medication regimes.
Prescription warning labels are intended to serve as quick reminders of the most important instructions for safe and effective drug use to prevent injuries from medications. They can include, for example, warnings against accompanying use of the medication with alcohol or driving.
Researchers discovered older patients do not always pay attention to drug warning labels. The results are worrisome, Bello said, because this population is reportedly at a greater risk for dangerous medication errors given their usually more complicated drug regimens relative to younger patients.
In the study, participants interacted with vials under a hypothetical scenario of just having been delivered prescription medications from the pharmacy.
Human factors researchers tracked study participants’ eye movements over labels on a prescription drug vial to measure attention.
Experts found that the eye gaze of 50 percent of participants older than 50 years of age failed to notice a warning label on prescription vials.
For 22 percent of these participants, their vision did not enter the warning label area in any of the five vials they interacted with.
In contrast, 90 percent of young adults between ages 20 and 29 fixated on the warning labels.
This difference was partially attributed to the age-specific dynamic of visual fixation of information between the age groups, researchers said.
Researchers say the findings show that understanding consumers’ attentive behavior can vary be age and that particular strategies are necessary to engage older adults.
This knowledge is critical for developing an effective labeling standard for prescription drugs.
Source: Kansas State University