The impact of textual elements on the comprehensibility of drug label instructions (DLIs): A systematic review

E. Maghroudi*, C.M.J. van Hooijdonk, H. van de Bruinhorst, L. van Dijk, J. Rademakers, S.D. Borgsteede

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Introduction Correct interpretation of drug labels instructions (DLIs) is needed for safe use and better adherence to prescribed drugs. DLIs are often too difficult for patients, especially for those with limited health literacy. What is yet unknown, is how specific textual elements in DLIs (e.g., the presentation of numbers, or use of medical jargon) and patients' health literacy skills are related to the comprehension of DLIs. In order to provide concrete directions for health professionals on how to optimize drug prescriptions, we performed a systematic review to summarize the available research findings on which textual elements facilitate or hinder the correct interpretation of DLIs in relation to patients' health literacy.Method A systematic search was performed in PubMed, EMBASE, PsychINFO, and Smartcat (until April 2019) to identify studies investigating textual elements that facilitate or hinder the correct interpretation of DLIs in relation to patients' health literacy.Results A total of 434 studies were identified of which 28 studies met our inclusion criteria. We found that textual elements contributing to the correct interpretation of DLIs were: using explicit time periods in dosage instructions, using plain language, presenting numbers in a numerical format, and providing DLIs in patients' native language. Multistep instructions per instruction line, using abbreviations and medical jargon seem to hinder the correct interpretation of DLIs. Although health literacy was taken into account in a majority of the studies, none of them assessed the effectiveness of specific textual elements on patients' comprehensibility of DLIs.Conclusion Based on our findings, we provide an overview of textual elements that contribute to the correct interpretation of DLIs. Optimizing the textual instruction on drug labels may increase the safety and adherence to prescribed drugs, taking into account that a significant proportion of patients has low health literacy.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0250238
Number of pages30
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2021


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