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End to Confusing Prescription Drug Labels?

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“Take one tablet twice daily” seems like a simple set of instructions, but studies have found that doctors have 53 different ways of writing this common dosage! So what is a patient to do when it comes to prescription drug labels? (

Led by Michael Wolf, professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and funded by Merck, Walgreens, Alliance of Chicago community health centers, and Northwestern Medicine are joining forces on a new study to make sure patients are taking the right medication at the right time.

The study, which will focus on patients with type 2 diabetes and more complex medication regimens, will look at how doctors write prescriptions and how pharmacists interpret those instructions on medication labels with the hopes of prompting a new national standard.

“People can only achieve full benefits from their medicines when they take them as their doctors advise,” said Sachin Jain, M.D., Merck’s chief medical information and innovation officer. “Merck is supporting this research to help remove obstacles preventing patients from achieving the best possible health outcomes. Simplifying patient medication instructions has highly beneficial and far-reaching implications for patients.”

Prior research by Northwestern has shown that patients required to take multiple medications often are confused by how the drugs are prescribed and end up taking more pills than are necessary throughout the day. In many cases, the frustration results in patients simply neglecting their medication routine and putting their health at risk.

Researchers are hoping the new study will discern whether prescribing medication at standard times during the day (morning, noon, evening, and bedtime) — similar to the pillboxes many use to keep track of their medication — will improve understanding and proper use of medication over time. The team is referring to these times as the “Universal Medication Schedule” (UMS).

“Over time, people would become more accustomed to an easier to understand, ‘Take one pill in the morning, noon, evening, and bedtime’ explanation that reduces the chance of confusion,” said Michael Taitel, senior director of clinical outcomes and analytic services at Walgreens. “It can only help to improve the proper use of medication.”

What do you think about these new suggested standards for dosing? Would knowing when, as opposed to how many, pills to take help you? 

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