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21-06-2012 | Pharmacology | Article

Prescription warning labels need to attract more attention


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MedWire News: Prescription warning labels (PWLs) often fail to attract attention, particularly among older people, leading to poor recognition of content and failure to encode and remember the message, report researchers.

"The implication of these age-related findings is that a label that is effective at attracting the attention of older people may more effectively convey information critical to the safe and effective use of medications in a population known to be at risk for ADEs [adverse drug effects]," say Laura Bix (Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA) and colleagues.

Interestingly, writes the team in PLoS ONE, there is no difference in recognition rates according to age, provided viewers notice the PWL in the first place.

The researchers presented 15 young adults, aged a mean 22.8 years, and 17 older adults, aged a mean 62.2 years, with five prescription vials containing a PWL in one of five colors. They tracked the participants' eye movements to assess which parts of the vials were visually fixated, in what order, and for how long.

The probability of noticing a PWL was significantly lower among the older adult group than the younger, at 54.0% compared with 91.8%, and color did not affect whether it was noticed.

Conversely, 100% of study participants noticed the white prescription label; the research team observed a significantly greater number of gazes directed at the white label compared with the PWL, at 1.35 versus 0.68.

The probability of correctly identifying the PWLs in a subsequent memory test was significantly different according to age, at 68.5% in the young adults, and 53.6% in the older adult group, report the researchers.

Together, these findings suggest that the older participants may have performed worse in the recognition task not because of memory problems, but because they were less likely to attend to the PWLs during viewing, remark Bix et al.

In confirmation of this, the team observed that when participants from either age group definitely did or definitely did not fixate the PWL, recognition rates in the memory test were similarly high and low, respectively.

"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," said Bix in an accompanying press release.

"Our initial recommendations would be to move all of the warnings from the colored stickers to the main, white label."

By Sarah Guy

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