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Experts call for clearer medicine labelling


A group of experts has recommended that familiar phrases on medicine bottles are made clearer.

Officials at the British National Formulary (BNF) have called for changes to be made to labelling messages - saying some current examples are unclear.

Many people do not know what the information on labels is saying, according to the research commissioned by the BNF - a drugs information group used by doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

The research claimed that labels advising people to “avoid alcoholic drink” could be misinterpreted by some.

Instead, it claims that such labels should carry the message “do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine”.

The word drowsiness is “not always readily understood” and should now be improved to say “this medicine may make you sleepy”.

The research was carried out by professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Leeds, Theo Raynor and colleagues.

His team tested a selection of instructions on almost 200 people aged 20 to 80.

The experts re-worded phrases that people found confusing, and then re-tested them in several sittings, including one-to-one interviews.

Prof Raynor said “avoid alcoholic drinks” was a good example.

“Our user tests have shown that the word ‘avoid’ can cause confusion and that some people think it only means they should limit their alcohol intake.

“This phrase will now be replaced by the instruction: ‘do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine’, which is far clearer.”

Other phrases include changing “do not take indigestion remedies at the same time of day as this medicine” to “do not take indigestion remedies two hours before or after you take this medicine”.

Another phrase, “do not stop taking this medicine except on your doctor’s advice”, becomes “warning: Do not stop taking this medicine unless your doctor tells you to stop.”

The revised phrases are included in a new, updated version of the BNF.

“The software used by large pharmacy chains and independent pharmacist to print instruction labels is updated regularly, so we would expect to see these new phrases appear within the next six months,” Prof Raynor said.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Dumbing down springs to mind.

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  • Was English their mother tongue?

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  • From the OCED 11th Edition CD-ROM

    n adjective (drowsier, drowsiest) sleepy and lethargic.

    drowsily adverb
    drowsiness noun

    C15: probably from the stem of Old English drusian 'be languid or slow', of Germanic origin; related to dreary.

    n adjective (sleepier, sleepiest)
    1 needing or ready for sleep.
    2 (of a place) without much activity. Ønot dynamic or able to respond to change.

    sleepily adverb
    sleepiness noun

    n verb
    1 keep away or refrain from. Øprevent from happening.
    2 Law repudiate, nullify, or render void (a decree or contract).

    avoidable adjective
    avoidably adverb
    avoidance noun
    avoider noun

    Middle English: from Old French evuider 'clear out, get rid of', from vuide (see void).

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  • Anonymous | 7-Mar-2011 2:00 pm

    Was English their mother tongue?

    Could the read and write?

    Did they go to school?

    What was their level of education?

    What was their sex/social class/ethnic origin, etc.?

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