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Prescription Drug Warning Labels Need to Better Capture Attention

Update Date: Jul 05, 2012 11:26 AM EDT

Researchers are calling for an overhaul of drug warning labels after new research has found that many patients seem to ignore prescription drug warning labels with instructions that are critical for safe and effective use.

According to a study by a Kansas State University researcher and scientists at Michigan State University, consumers do not pay any attention to prescription drug warning labels because they are not attention catching, especially to older people. The research, published in PloS ONE, revealed that drug warning labels fail to capture patients' attention, impairing the communication of important safety information.

In the United States, nearly 15 million medication errors occur each year where patients are responsible for complying with medication regimes. Prescription warning labels help patients remember basic instruction to prevent injuries. For example, a prescription drug warning labe may warn patients from using the medication with alcohol or driving.

Nora Bello, assistant professor of statistics at Kansas State University, helped investigate the effectiveness of prescription drug warning labels to convey drug information to patients.

"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."

The research revealed that older patients ignore the warning label and they are at a higher risk for committing medication errors. Bello said the findings are "worrisome."

According to the study, 50 percent of patience older than 50 years old failed to notice a warning and 22 percent of them did not enter the warning label area at all. On the other hand, 90 percent of young adults between ages 20 and 29 fixated on the warning labels.

Researchers said the data provided a compelling case that understanding consumers' attentive behavior and how to attract their attention is crucial to developing an effective labeling standard for prescription drugs.

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