Prescription Labels Geared Toward Pharmacies, Not Patients

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Prescription Drug Labels

The labels on most prescription drug containers highlight the pharmacy's name or logo rather than instructions on how to take the medication, reports a new study in the September 10 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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The Institute of Medicine estimates that 1.5 million medication errors occur each year in the United States and poor labeling is one cause of the mistakes. While the Food and Drug Administration has some standards on what prescription labels must include, few regulations guide the format of the information, said lead author William Shrank, M.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School

In the study, six pharmacies in four cities filled identically written prescriptions for four commonly prescribed medications. The pharmacies included the two largest chains, two grocery stores and two independent pharmacies.

Shrank, who is with the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, and colleagues evaluated 85 labels. The researchers found the pharmacy name or logo was the most prominent item on 84 percent of the labels, with an average 13.6-point font size. By comparison, the instructions averaged a 9.3-point size and medication names averaged an 8.9-point font. Warning stickers were in a much smaller, 6.5-point font on average.

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