Older People Make Mistakes Using Shape, Size, Color
to ID Their Drugs
People over 50 who identified blood pressure
medication by shape, size or color instead of name had poorer adherence,
poorer blood pressure control and an increased risk of hospitalization
Dec. 5, 2013 - Older people who identify their
blood pressure medications by shape, size and color instead of by name
may risk poor blood pressure control and increase their risk of
hospitalization, finds a recent study in the
Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives.
“Much of our team’s previous research focus has
been on people’s ability to take medications safely and to understand
how cognitive function affects that,” said lead author Jennifer L.
Lenahan, formerly of the Health Literacy and Learning Program in the
Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.
“We noticed anecdotally in a number of other
studies that patients had a lot of trouble identifying their
Even with proper labeling, many people struggle
with organizing and taking medications correctly. Patients may recognize
that a pill has a certain look but generic medications frequently change
their look, which can be confusing, the authors said.
The researchers interviewed a group of Midwestern
safety-net patients over age 50 and with high blood pressure to evaluate
their knowledge of drug names and dosages or their pills’ visual
characteristics. They also tested their health literacy and asked them
about recent hospitalizations or visits to the emergency department.
Specifically, the authors honed in on
“identification strategies, self-reported adherence and health outcomes.
Patients who were dependent on the visual identification of their
prescription medicine reported worse adherence. In addition, they had
significantly lower rates of blood pressure control and greater risk of
hospitalization,” they wrote.
In general, patients had trouble correctly naming
their medications, said Lenahan, and this ability correlated with levels
of health literacy. And, not surprisingly, the authors said, “patients
who could not identify their medications by either name or appearance
were more likely to self-report poorer adherence than were those who
could identify their medications.”
“The work by Lenahan and colleagues further
demonstrates the need to counsel patients on safe and appropriate
medication use and ensure that every patient has a full understanding of
the medications they have been prescribed,” said Stacy Cooper Bailey,
Ph.D., M.P.H. at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of
“This is essential to promoting patient safety and
ensuring high quality care. This article is unique in that it links
patients' knowledge of their medication names to blood pressure control
and healthcare utilization.”
Bailey also said the report shows the potential
danger of relying solely on visual descriptions of medications. “As the
appearance of certain drugs may vary over time and patients are often
switched from brand name drugs to generics that are a different size,
shape or color, ensuring patients know the actual name of their
medications is key,” she said.
Source: Health Behavior
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