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Quantifying Age-Related Differences in Information Processing Behaviors When Viewing Prescription Drug Labels
Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012
Author: Raghav Prashant Sundar et al.

by Raghav Prashant Sundar, Mark W. Becker, Nora M. Bello, Laura Bix

Adverse drug events (ADEs) are a significant problem in health care. While effective warnings have the potential to reduce the prevalence of ADEs, little is known about how patients access and use prescription labeling. We investigated the effectiveness of prescription warning labels (PWLs, small, colorful stickers applied at the pharmacy) in conveying warning information to two groups of patients (young adults and those 50+). We evaluated the early stages of information processing by tracking eye movements while participants interacted with prescription vials that had PWLs affixed to them. We later tested participants’ recognition memory for the PWLs. During viewing, participants often failed to attend to the PWLs; this effect was more pronounced for older than younger participants. Older participants also performed worse on the subsequent memory test. However, when memory performance was conditionalized on whether or not the participant had fixated the PWL, these age-related differences in memory were no longer significant, suggesting that the difference in memory performance between groups was attributable to differences in attention rather than differences in memory encoding or recall. This is important because older adults are recognized to be at greater risk for ADEs. These data provide a compelling case that understanding consumers’ attentive behavior is crucial to developing an effective labeling standard for prescription drugs.