Interpretation of Medication Labels

Monday, 18 November 2013: 3:35 PM

Carole A. Pepa, PhD, RN
Jennifer Sechrist, Student
Brittany O'Reilly, Student
Katherine Jankauski, Student
Emily Czekala, Student
Lily Salinas, Student
Constance Lemley, MSN, GCNS-BC
College of Nursing, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN

Learning Objective 1: state errors clients may make when interpreting medication labels.

Learning Objective 2: state the importance of utilizing the teach back technique to improve health outcomes.

Problem: More than 75 million adults in the U.S. have limited health literacy (AHRQ, 2011). This can impact a person’s ability to correctly interpret medication labels, which can have an effect on health outcomes.

Purpose: The purpose of this research was to determine the readability of common medication labels. Specifically, the research questions were: (1) How do individuals interpret medication container labels of commonly prescribed medications, and (2) Is there a relationship between medication label interpretation and level of health literacy as measured by the REALM (Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy)?

Method: Participants were recruited from two arenas: those attending a student run health fair at a rural hospital in northern Indiana and participants at a Relay for Life held at a local northwest Indiana university. After providing consent, participants completed demographic information and the REALM. Participants then blindly chose three medication containers from a bag. These containers were labeled amoxicillin, plavix, glyburide, coumadin, or lisinopril. The labels were prepared by a registered pharmacist and affixed to standard medication containers. Participants then interpreted the information on the medication labels.

Sample: A convenience sample of 21 participants agreed to complete the information.  Ages ranged from 18 to 89 years with a median age of 20 years. Seventeen of the participants were women. Education levels varied from 10th grade to Master’s degree.

Findings:  Content analysis revealed that respondents were unable to correctly interpret instructions on four of the five medication containers.  In addition, several participants added incorrect information not on the labels. The analysis showed that there was no relationship between medication label interpretation and REALM scores.

Conclusions/Significance to Nursing: Findings support that nurses should have all clients restate medication directions and warnings. This assessment of understanding may increase a client’s ability to adhere to the medication regimen and improve outcomes.