Harvard Health Letter

Prescriptions for confusion

Some retailers have improved the pill bottle, but the written information that comes with medications is confusing.

Ideally, people would leave the doctor's office or the pharmacy with a clear understanding of their prescription medication — how much to take, when to take it, the risks, the benefits. But in reality, many conversations about prescriptions are incomplete. A study published in 2006 found that physicians explain the adverse effects and duration of a drug therapy in only about a third of their discussions with patients. Only about half the time did they instruct their patients about the number of tablets to take.

Even if doctors were perfect communicators and time were no object, it would be difficult to absorb and recall all the important messages about a drug, perhaps especially for those who have been newly diagnosed with a condition. When we get home with our pills, most of us are going to need to read written instructions if we're to take them safely and to their best effect.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »