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Drug labels are prescriptions for mistakes

PHILADELPHIA, November 29, 2006 -- A new study to assess understanding of five common prescription label instructions found that patients had difficulty comprehending how much and how often the medication should be taken. Misunderstanding was particularly high among those with lower literacy (eighth grade level or below) and those who took many prescription drugs.

The study, To Err is Truly Human: Literacy and Misunderstanding of Prescription Drug Labels, is scheduled for online release to the public by Annals of Internal Medicine on November 29, 2006, at www.annals.org. The article also will be printed in the December 19 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers interviewed 395 English-speaking adults in three states. The five medications identified for the study were two antibiotics (amoxicillin and trimethoprim); an expectorant (guaifenesin); an anti-hypertensive, channel blocking agent (felodipine); and a diuretic (furosemide). Patient literacy was classified either as low (sixth grade and below), marginal (seventh to eighth grade), or adequate (ninth grade and higher).

Study findings included:

- 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.

- The rates of understanding individual labels ranged from 67.1 percent for the instructions for trimethoprim (Take one tablet by mouth twice daily for seven days) to 91.1 percent for the instructions on the label for felodipine (Take one tablet by mouth once each day).

- Patients with low literacy were less able to understand the meaning of all five medication labels than those with adequate literacy.

- The majority (51.8 percent) of incorrect patient responses reflected an error in dosage (e.g., tablespoon vs. teaspoon), and 28.2 percent stated the wron
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Contact: Steve Majewski
smajewski@acponline.org
215-351-2514
American College of Physicians
29-Nov-2006


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