60-Second Health

Prescription Refill Appearance Change Puts Patients off Meds

When refilled prescriptions for post–heart attack care resulted in the same medication looking different in shape or color, patients were significantly more likely to stop taking their meds. Dina Fine Maron reports


Don’t judge a book by its cover. And don’t judge a pill by its color—or shape.
When prescriptions for post-heart attack care got refilled and the same drugs suddenly came in different shapes or colors, patients were significantly more likely to stop taking their meds. That’s the finding from a study involving more than 11,000 patients that appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine. [Aaron S. Kesselheim et al., Burden of Changes in Pill Appearance for Patients Receiving Generic Cardiovascular Medications After Myocardial Infarction: Cohort and Nested Case–Control Studies]
Even when different-looking pills contained the exact same active ingredient, a change in color boosted the odds that patients would stop taking their heart medication by 34 percent. A change in shape jumped the chance that patients would cease their meds by 66 percent.
There’s no legal requirement to make generic and brand-name drugs appear alike. But the study’s authors say that the Food and Drug Administration should consider making consistent appearance the standard, as such uniformity would likely result in more patients adhering to their medication regimens. For now, we’re all stuck reading pharmaceutical labels.
—Dina Fine Maron
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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