Archive for August, 2009

04 Aug 2009  |  by Gini Niles

Prescription labels: Where are we now?


As a firm, we are interested in how design can contribute to improved patient outcomes. We know some design efforts are underway to reduce confusion and deliver more meaningful information on prescription labels, but labeling doesn’t seem to have changed much. So, I set out to learn where those efforts stand. Here’s what I found…

There’s a problem with prescription labeling

Shrank et al. found that variability among label designs, as well as poorly executed information hierarchy, leads to patient confusion and misinterpretation. Low literacy levels is another such factor that can lead to the misunderstanding of prescription labels. According to another study, patient confusion is in direct correlation with their level of literacy.

The FDA requires that certain information be included on the label but there are no recommendations for type size, color, or placement of information. Because FDA standards don’t address label design, pharmacies are left to fit legal requirements on the label with no particular hierarchy or order.

One study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that while some pharmacies are using color, bold type, and large font sizes, it is typically used to enhance only the pharmacy’s information. Pharmacy logo and slogan, and pharmacy telephone number and address were set in a large type size, while patient information and medication instructions were set in a small type size.

Design efforts seek to reduce confusion

  • The Seventh Annual National Health Communication Conference highlighted prescription label improvement in 2008.
  • Michael Wolf, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, proposes a complete redesign and standardization of the text and format of prescription medication labels.
  • Target launched ClearRx four years ago. Deborah Adler was inspired to redesign the prescription label for her masters thesis when her grandmother and grandfather accidentally switched their medications. Deborah shopped her design around to various companies when Target expressed interest in the project. Clear typography, smart color coding, and flat surfaces for easier reading are all components of the new design. Subsequently, Target provided a grant to Dr. Wolf to redesign the warning icons and usage instructions. 
Target ClearRx label and package design
  • The Walgreen Company is implementing a program that provides translations of medication information in several languages.
  • EasyRead. Weber Shandwick helped CVS/Pharmacy, the nation’s largest retail pharmacy, develop the EasyRead prescription label. The label uses a larger typeface and a cleaner layout. It also includes a physical description of the prescribed pill to help customers identify their medications.

EasyRead label

Help us learn more

If you are aware of more recent progress in the area of prescription label design or have any other resources of note, feel free to comment and share what you know.