Perplexing Prescription Labels Confound Caregivers and Doctors Alike


In an effort to reduce their liability and cover ALL of the bases, drug companies often list every possible side effect of their medications on the labels and inserts that come with the drug.

Proper management of an elder's prescription medication can be an onerous task for a caregiver—one that is not made any easier by the drug companies and pharmacies that issue and dispense various medications.

On top of unnecessarily long lists of side effects, prescription medications also carry pharmacy-supplied drug labels that have a tendency to utilize complex language that lies somewhere between doctor lingo and legal-ese.

The result is a plethora of confusing prescription warnings and instructions that patients and doctors alike have a difficult time deciphering.

Lengthy lists of side effects

A study conducted by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine discovered that the average drug label contains 70 potential reactions. Even more shocking, the greatest number of side effects listed on a single drug label was 525.

With numbers like this, it's no wonder that doctors are having a difficult time making decisions on which medicines to prescribe to their patients, especially when those patients are becoming increasingly less likely to take a medication with so many potential side effects.

Confusing language and icons

Patients have a difficult time comprehending the instructions on prescription drug labels according to a research team at Northwestern University School of Medicine.

Standard prescription label jargon and icons proved to be confusing to the 500 adult patients that were the test subjects of this study. While only 80% of the patients could correctly translate a traditional prescription drug label into proper action, this number increased to 92% when the labels were modified with simpler language and self-explanatory icons.

What this means for caregivers

Read prescription drug labels carefully.

The life of the elder you care for may very well depend on the proper dosing and application of their prescriptions.

Don't be embarrassed to ask your pharmacist or doctor if you are confused by the warnings or instructions accompanying a medication.

For more information on prescription medication management:

Guide for Managing Medications and Prescriptions

Top 6 Medication Problems and How to Prevent Them

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