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Prescription Labels often Do not Follow Guidelines, Study Reports

Update Date: Jul 09, 2014 03:13 PM EDT

Patients must follow the instructions to the tee when it comes to prescription drugs. Even though patients are aware that they must take their medication as directed by their doctors, the risk of drug misuse or abuse exists. In a new study, researchers examined the labels on prescription pill bottles and found that many of labels fail to meet guidelines, which can lead to errors in medication use.

"Surprisingly, there are few guidelines and no regulations for the print on prescription labels in Canada," said Dr. Sue Leat from Waterloo's School of Optometry and Vision Science reported by Medical Xpress. "In Ontario, regulations specify only the content of prescription labels, not how they appear."

For this study, the researchers from the University of Waterloo and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) analyzed the different labels that pharmacies attached to prescription drugs. The researchers found that many of the labels did not use the recommended font size, use of bolding, sentence spacing and sentence case. For example, roughly 44 percent of the labels had met the required 12-font size. If these guidelines were to be followed with the help of stricter regulations, people's risk of misusing the drugs could fall significantly.

"The research shows that factors such as font size, sentence alignment, case and contrast can impact the readability of the label," said Professor Carlos H. Rojas-Fernandez from Waterloo's School of Pharmacy and a Schlegel Research Chair in Geriatric Pharmacotherapy. "We expect that addressing these factors together will improve the accessibility of prescription labels. We need to move from a pharmacy-centered labeling standard, to a patient-centered one."

The researchers had accessed the labels from 45 pharmacies located in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Each sample label contained the patient's name, drug name and directions. The labels were compared to the sample labels that were printed according to the recommendations set by pharmaceutical and health companies.

The researchers' goal is to create a prototype pharmaceutical label designed to increase readability and accuracy. The label will be tested alongside a questionnaire that will be given to pharmacists and patients. The study was published in the Canadian Pharmacists Journal.

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