Just how well are patients reading your labels? Use science to find out

By Daphne Allen in Labels on May 29, 2015

Prescribed multiple therapies and frequently caring for themselves at home, patients are overwhelmed these days. Packaging and labeling, therefore, must do everything possible to help patients understand the products they use.

“Everyone should be designing packaging and labeling from a user-focused perspective,” says Laura Bix, associate professor, Michigan State University School of Packaging. “The industry has been very scientific and concerned about product safety and efficacy, but it’s not limited to preserving chemistry. If patients don’t take medications correctly, it won’t matter how well the drug chemistry has been preserved. We must consider human behavior.”

Bix will be speaking about labeling June 9 at Pharmapack North America in “Tools for Objectively Designing and Evaluating Label Design for Healthcare Products.” 

Bix is particularly inspired by this quotation cited by the World Health Organization: “Increasing the effectiveness of adherence interventions may have a far greater impact on the health of the population than any improvement in specific medical treatments.” (WHO credits Haynes in “Interventions for helping patients to follow prescriptions for medications,” from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2001.)

To have such an impact, Bix believes that designers should “apply science to the interface between people and product and develop products in the way they are intended to be used. Healthcare outcomes could be improved by focusing on that interface,” she says. “However, all too frequently, too little science is employed to objectively evaluate and design the information conveyed through healthcare labeling.”

Bix will discuss several objective tools for measuring the interface between people and packaging specific to perception, cognition, and product selection. She’ll cite some of MSU’s current research in applying such tools to characterize user behavior.

For instance, through forced-selection testing, her students have looked at the effect of color, boxing, symbols, and grouping critical information on decision-making. One project entailed having surgical technologists and nurses identify and select latex-free products as quickly as they could, while researchers measured the effectiveness of each of these design features. 

Bix and her students also employ eye-tracking technologies to evaluate and compare things like how patients “attend” branding information versus regulatory information and warnings.

Finally, the students are using “change detection” to investigate things like the use of tall-man lettering on healthcare providers’ abilities to differentiate look-alike, sound-alike drug names.

Designing packaging and labeling around user behavior is in-line with changes in the overall healthcare system, which is becoming a “more patient-centered system,” Bix says. She points to the focus on patient wellness such as maintaining healthy cholesterol levels or on reducing days spent in hospitals. “My sense is that FDA is gearing up on the social science side, too. It is an exciting place to be, but it is more complicated. There are many more entities involved, but there are definite roles for technology in packaging and labeling.”

Join us on June 9 at Pharmapack North America to hear Bix detail these and other research efforts driving a scientific approach to understanding and responding to user behavior.

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