Are Prescription Labels Easy to Read?

Pharmacy standards will be aimed at making labels easier to read

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) creates standards of purity, strength, and quality for medications and food ingredients. They are working to make prescription labels easier to understand.

The new USP guidelines are aimed at making sure that important information is easy to see. 

They also call for clear and simply stated directions about how to take a medication.

The guidelines are aimed at making directions more clear so people will have less confusion about how to take their medications properly.

"When in doubt, ask your pharmacist!"

Because patients often rely on the label when taking their medications, the USP wants to make sure that good labeling will help patients get information they need.

They created a specific set of standards for prescription labels with hopes of making them easier to read and easier to understand.

Joanne G. Schwartzberg, MD, director, aging and community health for the American Medical Association and a member of the USP Nomenclature, Safety and Labeling Expert Committee, the group of independent experts responsible for the new standard, said "These USP standards will promote patient understanding of their medication instructions, which is absolutely essential to preventing potentially dangerous mistakes and helping to ensure patient health and safety."

The guidelines were prompted by studies that show that medication misuse is fairly common, that patients often report that they don’t understand the directions on labels, and that people who have trouble reading are more likely to misunderstand the information on the label.

Some highlights from the new guidelines are:

  • Make sure that important safety information is easy to see and obvious. The patient’s name, drug name, and instructions should be at the top of the label. All other information should be below that.
  • Use simple, standard sentences in plain language. No jargon or abbreviations.
  • Use clear directions. Dose and timing of the dose should be given in direct instructions. For example, “One pill in the morning, one in evening”.  Vague wording, like “two times a day,” should be avoided.
  • Avoid icons unless it is clear that an icon is easily understood by everyone.
  • Use common fonts when printing the labels that are big enough for easy reading.

The FDA has not announced that these guidelines will be enforced nationwide. For now, enforcing these standards will be up to individual state pharmacy boards.

An October 9 press release announced the first draft of the guidelines.

The draft was sent to healthcare professionals, pharmacy boards and retailers. After editing with comments from these sources, the finalized USP standards will be published in November.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 17, 2012
Last Updated:
October 18, 2012