A recent study by researchers at Michigan State showed that warning labels on prescription drugs may be missing their mark. The labels, meant to pass on important storage or consummation information, may be too easily avoided. Misreading or not seeing this information could lead to potentially deadly mistakes, such as consuming alcohol while taking the medication or improperly storing it.
As it stands, there is already a 56% misunderstanding rate for these warning labels, according to the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. This research set out to discover why.
The study used eye tracking technology to determine whether or not these labels were noticed. Results showed that fewer than 50% of participants actually read the warning labels. Additionally, 22% didn’t notice the labels at all. The researchers speculate that, though the warning label had a brighter color, the smaller text and awkward text alignment (vertical up the side of the bottle instead of horizontal with the text of the main label) played a part in making the warning label seem less important than the primary one.
The groups were also differentiated by age. Participants ranged from 20 to 77, and, while almost everyone paid attention to the main label, only 29% of participants aged 51 to 77 noticed the warning. Considering that one third of people over the age of sixty-five take an estimated ten medications per day, this result can be troubling.
Misunderstanding or completely missing this warning information can mean the difference between life and death. Many side effects are directly related to not heeding these warnings, and some of those side effects can have dramatic results.
However, this initial study was small. It consisted of fewer than forty participants, and the tracker determined color recollection rather than the actual content of the warning label. Nonetheless, the study both demonstrates the usefulness of eye tracking in further studies as well as the potential risks of poor warning labels.