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Measuring the quality of information in medical package leaflets: harmful or helpful?
Author: van der Waarde, Karel
Source: Information Design Journal, Volume 16, Number 3, 2008 , pp. 216-228(13)
Publisher: John Benjamins Publishing Company

Abstract:
Situation: Patients, doctors, pharmacists and nurses must receive visual information about medicines. Without instructions, warnings and risk-benefit information, it is not possible to prescribe, dispense, or take medicines appropriately. Research indicates that fifty percent of medicines for chronic illnesses are not taken effectively and that the number of hospital admissions and fatal accidents caused by medicines are significant. The visual design of the information is likely to be strongly related to these statistics. Confusing medical packaging, poor instructions, hard to read package leaflets, and conflicting warnings are commonly found when the visual design of information about medicines is analysed.

Problem: European Union legislation has made user-testing of package leaflets obligatory. These ‘readability tests’ should guarantee that the text and the design of package leaflets ‘enables people to act appropriately’. The EU suggest ‘diagnostic testing’ as their preferred testing method. This method is well suited to find problems that people have with package leaflets. Unfortunately, the diagnostic test is currently mainly used to provide quantitative data on ‘how readable a leaflet is’. Furthermore, it is only obligatory to test package leaflets, and not any of the other information that is necessary to handle medicines appropriately. This kind of testing is therefore unlikely to help alleviate the above-mentioned situation.

Conclusion: Looking at current practice of measuring ‘readability’ with a diagnostic test, and presenting the results as quantitative data does not do justice to the range of activities that must be supported by well-designed information. There seems to be a need to reconsider the testing process as it is currently used to evaluate the ‘readability of package leaflets’ in the European Union.

Document Type: Research article
DOI: 10.1075/idj.16.3.05waa

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