Instructions provided with medicines is far too small for people with impaired or partially sighted vision to read

When you're in your local pharmacy, do you ever try to compare the lables on products, only to find that the print is impossible to read? A new study goes a little way to remedy this, at least for those who are visually impaired. The study found that the information and instructions provided with medicines is far too small for people with impaired or partially sighted vision to read. The findings are reported in the current issue of the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Most information on medicines and treatment is communicated in writing, but little thought has been given as to whether patients can actually read it, say the authors.

According to the World Health Organisation, levels of visual impairment range from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10, depending on the age group

They assessed the point at which 180 patients stopped being able to read, without magnification, the manufacturer’s printed instructions on the side of a bottle of eye-drops.

All the patients, whose average age was 70, had impaired eyesight in one or both eyes, to varying degrees. This included a range of conditions, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataract.

The patients were allowed to bring the bottle as close to their face as possible in order to read it, and if they were able to do so, the time it took them was recorded. More than 30 seconds was classified as “reading with great difficulty.”

They were then asked to select the type and type sizes they found easiest to read.

Patients with moderately good sight, designated as 6/18 visual acuity, were able to read the instructions, but around two thirds of those with poorer sight in the range 6/24 and 6/36 were unable to read them. And almost all of those with 6/60 visual acuity could not read them.

Unsurprisingly, the more difficulty patients had deciphering the instructions, the larger type size they preferred, but the authors say that an enlarged font of Arial 22, which is about three times the size normally used, would meet everyone’s needs.

The authors say that this overlooked aspect of care is important, because patients need to be able to take the right and safe dose of medicine.

“It is common for patients to leave a consultation without remembering what was discussed, including how to take their medication,” they say, adding that the problems can be compounded for those who are hard of hearing or whose memory is impaired.

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