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Heed those drug warning labels!

Many patients seem to ignore prescription drug warning labels with instructions that are critical for safe and effective use, according to a study by a Kansas State University researcher working with scientists at Michigan State University.

Consumers, particularly older ones, often overlook prescription drug warning labels, in part because the labels fail to attract attention, said Nora Bello, an assistant professor of statistics at K-State. Bello helped inve-stigate the effectiveness of prescription drug warning labels to convey drug information to patients. She and experts in packaging and psychology found that prescription drug warning labels fail to capture patients' attention, impairing the communication of important safety information.

About 15 million medication errors occur each year in the United States, and most happen at home, where patients are responsible for complying with medication regimes. Prescription warning labels are intended to serve as quick reminders of the most important instructions for safe and effective drug use to prevent injuries from medica-tions. They can include, for example, warnings against use of alcohol or driving.

The findings show that older patients do not always pay attention to drug warning labels. The results are worrisome, Bello said, because elders are at a greater risk for dangerous medication errors, given their typically more complicated drug regimes relative to younger patients.

Researchers tracked the eye movements of study participants over labels on a prescription drug vial to measure their attention. The participants interacted with vials under a hypothetical scenario of just having been delivered prescription medications from the pharmacy.

In the study, the eye gaze of half of participants older than 50 years of age failed to notice a warning label on prescription vials. For 22 percent of these participants, their vision did not enter the warning label area in any of the five vials they interacted with. In contrast, 90 percent of young adults between ages 20 and 29 fixated on the warning labels.

The lesson: Even if you think you know what a drug container will say, read it as if you've never seen it before. Pay attention!