Recommended labelling improves readability of prescriptions

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Results of a study from the University of Waterloo and CNIB bolster the argument for changes in the way pharmacies print instructions to patients. The researchers tested prescription labels based on recommended guidelines and found a significant improvement in their readability over the ones in use now.

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The study appears in the most recent issue of the Canadian Pharmacists Journal, and is the first to show how improved legibility translates into significantly faster reading times for people with normal vision and with vision loss. When drug labels are easier to read, patients may be better able to adhere to their prescription instructions.

“For Canadians with vision loss, it is essential that prescription drug labels follow clear print guidelines,” said Diane Bergeron, executive director of strategic relations and engagement at CNIB. “People who cannot read prescription labels or distinguish amongst different medications are at risk for misusing their medication and potentially putting their health in jeopardy.”

Researchers asked 71 adult patients ranging in age and visual acuity to read prototype labels versus sample labels from a pharmacy, with both types of labels containing standardized prescription information. They created the prototype labels using recommended guidelines from CNIB. The sample labels came from 12 different pharmacies, reflecting the disparities patients currently see on prescriptions and used all uppercase lettering for the instructions, problematic for patients who have issues with their vision.

sample prescription labelsPrototype label that follows recommended guidelines. (University of Waterloo)

The prototype labels followed recommended guidelines for font size, use of bolding, justification, sentence case and spacing and led to patients reading the prototype labels between three to eight seconds faster than the pharmacy samples. Patients with vision loss struggled a full 10 seconds longer to read the pharmacy samples, compared to the prototype labels.

“Improving the legibility of prescription labelling would help make labels much more accessible to people who are sighted or have low vision,” said Dr. Susan Leat, a professor in the School of Optometry and Vision Science at Waterloo. “While uppercase is great for emphasizing one word, it actually presents a barrier when overused.”

Patients preferred the prototype labels with characters in the largest possible font (16-point), along with numbers in the instructions printed in uppercase and highlighted in yellow for emphasis.

This is the second phase of this research, which previously showed that more than half of prescription labels fail to meet recommended legibility standards in terms of font size and use of uppercase or lowercase.

The collaboration also involved Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy and was funded by CNIB.

About the University of Waterloo

University of Waterloo is Canada’s top innovation university. With more than 36,000 students we are home to the world's largest co-operative education system of its kind. Our unmatched entrepreneurial culture, combined with an intensive focus on research, powers one of the top innovation hubs in the world. Find out more at

About CNIB

CNIB is a registered charity, passionately providing community-based support, knowledge and a national voice to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. For more information, visit


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University of Waterloo

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