Redesigned drug packaging can improve patient safety, study suggests

Simplifying the packaging of over-the-counter medication can lead to fewer adverse drug events, according to a study in the December issue of Human Factors.

Researchers were "surprised by the variation and inconsistency of the drug information presented on medication packages," said Tor Endestad, PsyD, an associate professor in the University of Oslo's psychology department. So, he and a team redesigned OTC medication packaging in the following ways:

  • Reduced size of brand name
  • Put active ingredients and dosage information in new locations
  • Varied color schemes

They then showed 84 adults between the ages of 18 and 86 different packages medications in the original packaging. Participants were asked to identify in three seconds if the medications had the same active ingredient. Then the process was repeated with the redesigned packaging.

Error rates decreased when the redesigned packages were used (41 percent to 8 percent for younger users; 68 percent to 16 percent for older users).

Putting the drug information on a high-contrast background and putting it in a dedicated place on the package made the packages easier to understand, according to the study.

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