Are medication side effects making you sick?

A MSU study finds that many patients do not read medication labels, affecting health and causing drug interactions.

Reading prescription medication labels sounds simple enough. However, an estimated 1.5 million medication errors occur annually in the U.S. – a majority of them caused by the patients themselves. This is largely because it is up to the patient to use the information provided to safely and effectively administer a prescription product. Many of the adverse reactions, ranging from mild rashes and drowsiness to hospitalization and death, could be because warning labels are often overlooked.

Using eye-tracking technology, Michigan State University (MSU) researcher Laura Bix, Ph.D., found that sometimes warning labels did not capture a patient’s attention. Specifically, only 50 percent of study participants looked directly at every warning label on five vials they were handed and 22 percent did not even glance at any of the five. Given that these labels were developed as a quick highlight of the most important information for the safe and effective use of medications, there is significant room for improvement.

Older adults especially could benefit. Older people are the group most likely to take medicine improperly. Americans over age 60 account for 40 percent of adverse drug reaction cases and 51 percent of deaths from drug reactions. Bix’s MSU study found older participants were less likely to both notice and remember the information on warning labels when compared with their younger counterparts. Not surprisingly, more people who saw the stickers were able to recall them better. Enhancing the labels’ noticeability is a key factor in effective labeling for older patients in particular.

FutureMSU research will focus on recommendations for optimizing the design of medical labels for prescription vials, which have seen few changes since their introduction nearly 50 years ago.

Bix says that the key point is to study the bold print and read the labels thoroughly because they contain the most important information consumers need.

To learn more about protecting yourself from drug interactions, visit the Food and Drug Administration website.

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