Medical Noncompliance: Check The Fine Print

While “medical noncompliance” is typically understood as taking place when patients deliberately refuse to follow healthcare instructions (e.g., someone discontinuing antibiotics once he feels better rather than completing the full course as prescribed).  A more useful definition of “medical noncompliance” includes all instances in which healthcare instructions are not followed – whatever the reason, whether intentional or unintentional.

Consider the medication label displayed below.

It turns out that a large proportion of folks, especially those over 55, can’t visualize the print well enough to read the instructions and warnings.

A well done study1 found

The pharmacy name or logo was the most prominent item on 71 (84%) of the labels, with a mean font size of 13.6 point. Font sizes were smaller for medication instructions (9.3 point), medication name (8.9 point), and warning and instruction stickers (6.5 point).

For the non-typographers among us, I’d included a font size chart below. The bottom line is 6.5 point – the size used for warning and instruction stickers.


Now, there are workarounds. The patient could, for example, recruit a visually acute friend, spouse, grandchild, stranger off the street… to read the entire label aloud. Or insist that the pharmacist do so. But, my experience is that every obstacle placed, knowingly or not, between patients and medical treatment results in at least some of those patients will not receive that medical treatment as prescribed.


Credit Due Department: Photo atop post by MPCA Photos


  1. The variability and quality of medication container labels by Shrank WH, Agnew-Blais J, et al (JAMA: September 10, 2007) []

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