14 Jun Could we see pictures on Pharmaceutical labels in the future?
In general, the medical world has been moving ever-closer to including more and more information on its pharmaceutical labels. It is thought that this is the best way to ensure customers have all the knowledge they need to take their medicine safely, without consuming too much or missing a vital instruction.
Why labels may not be enough
However, recently it is becoming more apparent that, for some people, this is no good. In the UK, about one in every six people is ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning they would not be able to pass an English GCSE. These people can struggle to read the labels on medicines, especially if they contain too many technical terms, or the text is too small.
Text may be too small for elderly patients?
Chair of the Patients Association Dr Mike Smith told the BBC: “There are many elderly patients who may find the writing in small font on the coloured labels on bottles and packets of medicines difficult to read.” With all the dangers that come from taking an incorrect dose of a medicine, this is a serious problem.
A solution to the problem
A apparent solution is on the horizon. Dr Matthew Clayton – along with his colleagues Faizan Syed, Amjid Rashid and Umer Fayyaz – conducted a study on how to improve illiterate patients’ understanding of pharmaceutical labels.
The study looked at patients of Services Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, where 48 per cent of patients were functionally illiterate. This was thought to be the cause of a lack of adherence to the patients’ medication regimes, as they were unable to follow written instructions on their drug packages.
Using images to show correct dosage
Dr Clayton tried using images on the labels to show when the medicines needed to be taken, and how much was to be consumed at a time. Both illiterate and literate patients were given the new labels, and some were randomly selected to receive counselling on it.
A total of 100 per cent of the literate patients who did not receive counselling understood the new labels, while only 93 per cent understood the old labels. Meanwhile, illiterate patients who received counselling saw their understanding improve from 12 to 35 per cent with counselling, and five to 23 per cent without.
It is thought that similar changes would have similar results in the UK. However, some people disagree. Theo Raynor, professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Leeds, explained his misgivings with the idea to the BBC.
Could they cause more problems than they solve?
“Pictures sound like a really easy answer – but they can cause more problems than they solve,” he said. He gave the example of a label that had a picture of a baby with a cross through it to illustrate this point.
While the intent of this symbol was to inform people to keep the medicine out of reach of children, others took it to mean ‘don’t take if pregnant’, ‘don’t give to children’ or even that it was a contraceptive, showing how pictures can easily be misinterpreted.