Including Medication Purpose in Rx Label Makes Better Informed Patients

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Prescription drug labels should include the purpose of the medication in order to enhance safety and keep patients better informed about the drugs they are taking, a group of doctors and researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital argue.

The experts say that putting the indication of the drug on a prescription bottle would allow patients to better understand and adhere to their medication regimens and to question the necessity of a drug. In addition, it will inform doctors and pharmacists about what is being treated and the outcomes desired.

“Currently, even though there is a widespread commitment to sharing drug information with patients, the reason for a medication prescription is generally not recorded or shared when it is being written and is therefore missing a key piece of information,” Gordon D. Schiff, MD, the lead author and a general internist at the hospital, said.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors note in their perspective piece that historically, patients were deliberately not told about the ingredients and indications for the drugs they were prescribed. The reason, they say, goes back to an 1833 article in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal that prescriptions should be written in Latin to protect patients from the names of and indications for drugs so that the patient would rely only on the expertise of their doctor.

The researchers note they are collaborating with others on a 3-year project to build a prototype that will allow doctors to start from the patient’s problem, guide them to the potential medication options, and then include the indication for the medication on the prescription label.

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