The purpose of this pilot study was to evaluate and refine an adjuvant system of color-specific symbols that are added to medication bottles and to assess whether this system would increase the ability of patients 65 years of age or older in matching their medication to the indication for which it was prescribed.
This study was conducted in two phases, consisting of three focus groups of patients from a family medicine clinic (n = 25) and a pre-post medication identification test in a second group of patient participants (n = 100). Results of focus group discussions were used to refine the medication label symbols according to themes and messages identified through qualitative triangulation mechanisms and data analysis techniques. A pre-post medication identification test was conducted in the second phase of the study to assess differences between standard labeling alone and the addition of the refined color-specific symbols. The pre-post test examined the impact of the added labels on participants' ability to accurately match their medication to the indication for which it was prescribed when placed in front of participants and then at a distance of two feet.
Participants appreciated the addition of a visual aid on existing medication labels because it would not be necessary to learn a completely new system of labeling, and generally found the colors and symbols used in the proposed labeling system easy to understand and relevant. Concerns were raised about space constraints on medication bottles, having too much information on the bottle, and having to remember what the colors meant. Symbols and colors were modified if they were found unclear or inappropriate by focus group participants. Pre-post medication identification test results in a second set of participants demonstrated that the addition of the symbol label significantly improved the ability of participants to match their medication to the appropriate medical indication at a distance of two feet (p < 0.001) and approached significant improvement when placed directly in front of participants (p = 0.07).
The proposed medication symbol label system provides a promising adjunct to national efforts in addressing the issue of medication misuse in the home through the improvement of medication labeling. Further research is necessary to determine the effectiveness of the labeling system in real-world settings.
Keywords: Medication labeling, medication errors, medication adherence