“Study seeks to answer medical mystery: Would changes to prescription drug labels boost adherence?”

Stephanie Baum, the East Coast Innovation Reporter for Medcitynews, recently covered a new study looking to find the relationship between a change in prescription drug labels and adherence. The study aims to simplify instructions on prescriptions, making them easier to read and follow, eventually making a national standard. Even simple instructions such as “Take one tablet daily” can be written in 53 different forms.

Adherence is probably one of the most frequently used words in the healthcare reform lexicon. It affects a big chunk of the patient population and drives up healthcare costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There’s rarely one simple reason why patients don’t take their medication as prescribed — from forgetfulness to a lack of awareness about its importance, especially when they don’t feel sick, to underlying environmental and lifestyle issues. A new study shifts the focus from patients to drug labels and what can be done to make them easier to read and more consistent.

The number of ways to write the instruction — Take one tablet twice daily — is alarmingly high, according to a previous study by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The answer is 53!

Michael Wolf, PhD, MPH, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is leading a study that will test a way to standardize labels starting with patients with type 2 diabetes. Patients with diabetes and more complex medication regimens will be the focus of the study.

Merck (NYSE:MRK) is funding the study and Walgreens and the Alliance of Chicago community health centers are taking part, according to a description of the study.   

“We need to standardize it,” said Wolf. “It’s unnecessarily complicated, and all this variability contributes to people being confused and forgetting or neglecting to take all their medications. When you think about it, it’s really hard to stick with a behavior you have to do eight or nine times a day.”

The study will see if improving prescription labels would improve adherence. It will evaluate whether prescribing medications at four standard intervals of dosing in the morning, noon, evening, and bedtime improves patients’ understanding and proper use of medications over time, according to a description of the study. It will also determine whether this leads to better management of chronic disease. Twelve community health centers affiliated with Alliance of Chicago will be the sites for the study.

Currently, physician practices and pharmacies use different electronic records systems for writing prescriptions and translating them onto the medicine label. The study will bridge those two systems and seek to make them more consistent, the statement said.

On the pharmacist side, the study could present a new way to interpret physician instructions on medicine labels. If successful, the study could lead to a new national standard in the way prescription labels are written.

The consensus has been that the diversity of the patient population requires several different approaches to successfully addressing the adherence issue. Entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical companies and health IT companies have developed numerous approaches to tackling that puzzle from mobile app medication reminders and technology embedded in pill bottles and pills to incentives.

Read more here.

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