Maribeth Buie: Prescribing Change for Prescription Container Labeling

Prescription container labeling has long been an enormous obstacle in improving health literacy, as readers often struggle with ease of understanding, terminology, directions, and formatting issues.  However, for the first time ever, the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention is publishing new standards for prescription container labeling.  The new standards will provide a universal approach to the format, appearance, content, and language of instructions inherent in such labeling.

The approach outlines how to organize prescription container labels in a patient-friendly way, to use clear language to describe dosages and intervals, and to improve readability with clear formatting [including “purpose for use” (e.g. – “for high blood pressure”) and addressing the visually impaired and those with limited English comprehension].  For example, to improve readability, the standards state that label formatting should use high contrast, lots of white space, and simple large fonts.  To provide explicit instructions, the standards specify that the phrase, “Take 2 tablets twice daily,” should state, “Take 2 tablets in the morning and 2 tablets in the evening.”  These examples are a small sampling of the patient-centered changes these new standards prescribe for prescription container labeling.

As 77 million Americans have limited health literacy, these standards are definitely a step in the right direction to help individuals understand their medications, to adhere to medication regimens, and to use their medications safely.  Look for improved labeling at pharmacies nationwide in the near future.

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