Prescription Labels Often Misunderstood by Patients

Low literacy and multiple medications contribute to difficulty

FRIDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with low literacy and those who take multiple medications are more likely than other patients to have difficulty comprehending prescription label instructions, according to a report published online Nov. 29 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Terry C. Davis, Ph.D., of Louisiana State University Health Science Center-Shreveport, and colleagues interviewed 395 English-speaking adults in three states to determine if they understood the labels on five common prescription medications.

Patients had difficulty understanding how much and how often the medications should be taken. Specifically, patients who read at or below the sixth-grade reading level were less able to understand all five label instructions.

Although 70.7 percent of patients with low literacy correctly stated the instructions "take two tablets by mouth twice daily," only 34.7 percent could demonstrate the number of pills to be taken daily. Overall, correct understanding of the labels ranged from 67.1 percent to 91.1 percent. Patients who took greater numbers of prescription pills were also more likely to have difficulty comprehending instructions, the report indicates.

"Patients of all ages would benefit from additional efforts to improve the clarity and comprehensibility of labeling on prescription drugs," the study authors conclude.

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