Study: Older patients often ignore Rx warning labels

July 5, 2012

Brightly colored prescription warning labels applied by pharmacies fail to adequately capture the attention of older patients, suggesting that current labeling standards should be reconsidered to make them more effective, according to a study published online June 14 in PLoS ONE.

Brightly colored prescription warning labels (PWLs) applied by pharmacies fail to adequately capture the attention of older patients, suggesting that current labeling standards should be reconsidered to make them more effective, according to a study published online June 14 in PLoS ONE.

According to lead researcher Raghav Prashant Sundar, a graduate student at the School of Packaging, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., and colleagues, there are currently no universal federal standards for the presentation of information on PWLs and little is known about how patients access and use prescription labeling.

By tracking eye movements, Sundar and colleagues investigated the effectiveness of PWLs in conveying warning information to two groups of patients: 15 young adults (7 males, 8 females, age range of 20–29, with an average age of 22.8 years) and 17 adults over the age of 50 (5 males, 12 females, age range of 51–77, with an average age of 62.2 years).

The analyses showed that older patients were less likely to notice a PWL than younger patients (54.0%±17.6% and 91.8%±6.1%, respectively; P=.0396), and color did not appear to increase noticeability.

Although all patients were more likely to direct their gaze at the white pharmacy label (1.35±0.11) than the PWL (0.68±0.07) (P<.05), older patients were less likely to remember PWLs on bottles they had examined, which, the researchers suggest was more a result of where their attention went rather than memory lapse. Gaze tracking indicated that older patients made less total shifts (0.47±0.06) between areas on the bottle than the younger patients (0.85±0.09).

“These data have important implications for understanding possible shortcomings of current PWLs. They provide insight into a potential cause of age-related differences in PWL effectiveness, and suggest that designers should, at least in part, focus on attracting attention,” the authors wrote.