Eye-balling bottles: What you're missing on your prescription

You might be missing some of the important information written on your prescription drug bottles, and that could be dangerous.

Now, some say it's time for a change. Researchers at Michigan State are using eye-tracking technology to help them get some eye-opening results.

They're supposed to help you, but if you're not careful they could hurt you.

"There are a lot of medication errors that happen in the U.S.," says Dr. Mark W. Becker, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University.

There are about 1.5 million errors every year in the U.S. Some believe a big part of the problem is people don't read prescription warning labels.

"It's derailing the whole process early on," says Dr. Becker.

Psychologist Mark Becker and packaging experts conducted a study to test that theory.

Using eye-tracking technology, they gave people five prescription bottles and asked them to study the bottles like they would at home. Then asked what they remembered.

"People spend a lot of time on that white label," explains Raghay Sundar a MSU grad Student.

"Often times, people never even looked at the warning label," says Dr. Becker.

71 percent of the participants older than 50 failed to see all the brightly colored labels. 73 percent of young adults did read all the warnings.

"Those that actually spent time on the prescription warning label were able to recall it," said Sundar.

Using bottles from the study, we did our own non-scientific experiment. Two reviewed the bottles, then we asked what the warnings said.

"Good question,” said Mark Weller who did not read the warnings. “I don't know. I looked at the dosage, how many days you take it and what the drug was. I didn't look at the warnings."

"I didn't look at the warnings,” said Michelle Burke who did not read the warnings. “I guess I just didn't turn it around and look at that other side. I just looked at the main label."

Becker and his team want prescription bottles overhauled. He believes moving the warnings, from the side to the front label, would prevent a lot of adverse drug events particularly with older patients.

A seemingly simple solution to prevent a potential prescription for disaster for many people.

There are no federal regulations for prescription bottle labeling; each state sets its own.

New York and California have adopted new regulations, and the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention is pushing for new standards for every state.

A USP official tells us moving the warning label to the front of the bottle could be beneficial, but the USP doesn't recommend that it go on the main white label.

Research has shown putting it there could be overwhelming for patients and might cause them to miss important dosage information.

REPORT #1913

PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION ERRORS: Errors in prescribing, dispensing, and taking medications lead to many people in the United States being sickened, injured, or killed each year. On top of being harmful, prescription medication errors are also very costly with an estimated 3.5 billion dollars spent on treating drug related injuries in hospitals alone. The problem is so widespread, but little is done to help prevent these errors from occurring even though at least a quarter of the injuries caused by medication errors are clearly preventable. Some believe the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA have not done enough to make drug information accessible to consumers and make drug packaging as error-proof as possible. Hospitals and nursing homes are some of the worst when it comes to medication errors and many times the patients and their families are not even notified an error was made unless it results in injury or death. (Source: www.washingtonpost.com)

WARNING LABELS: Warning labels on prescription medication bottles provide important information on whether food or water needs to be taken with the medication, if the pills should not be crushed, whether it is safe to perform certain activities while on the medication, and so on. Other than the colorful warning labels on the back or side of bottles, package inserts also describe all side effects and warnings. Pharmacists add one page consumer studies with the same information. There are some concerns that people rely solely on the stickers rather than taking the time to read the insert or consumer studies. This has not yet shown to be a problem, but many adults with a 7th grade reading skill or lower misinterpret the warnings because of the pictures accompanying the written warnings on the sticker labels which could possible lead to issues in the future. (Source: www.nytimes.com)

OTHER SOLUTIONS: Suggestions on how to reduce the risk of medication errors are varied. Here are a few:
* Dispense medications in blister packs that make it easier for patients to identify them and for consumers to remember they have taken that day's dosage.
* Electronic prescribing to avoid mistakes with doctor's illegible handwriting.
* Hospitals and nursing homes create a standardized bar-coding system for checking and dispensing drugs.
* And the most obvious suggestion: patients should make more of an effort to read all the labels and know about the risks of the drugs they take.
(Source: www.washingtonpost.com)

For More Information, Contact:

Mark W. Becker
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
(517) 432-3367

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