People with low vision can often struggle with reading medicine information on labels, which can lead to incorrect use
Studies show that people with limited vision find managing their medication is one of the many issues they have to contend with daily.
In its largest survey into the experiences of blind and partially sighted people, the Royal National Institute for Blind people (RNIB) discovered nine out of ten participants found information on medication was quite difficult or impossible to read.
Nearly half (45%) of blind and partially sighted people said they found it “impossible” to read the instructions on medication.
A further 45% said that this was “quite or very difficult”.
Reported difficulty was linked to the level of sight loss: 60% of people registered blind said that it was impossible to read details on medication, compared to 28% of people registered as partially sighted.
“It is simply unacceptable that people with sight loss cannot … read basic information about their medication,” said then RNIB chief executive Lesley-Anne Alexander on publication of the results.
In another study by RNIB Scotland, blind and partially sighted people reported their experiences in accessing information about medication:
“Not being able to read labels on medication” including not being able to identify the type of medication. (Participant A)
“For blind people, there are serious problems with different packaging of the same medicine from different suppliers. This is important!! The variable in packaging is a very serious potential calamity for the blind.” (Participant B)
“Off-the-shelf medicine instructions are unreadable on both the packaging and the instruction leaflets.” (Participant C)
“If I receive more than one medication at a time, I have to depend on others to give them to me.” (Participant D)
Implications can include taking the wrong amount of medication because information was not in preferred reading format.
Some Australian companies are working with advocates for blind and partially sighted people to create solutions for this issue.
For example, Webstercare – the Australian company that provides the Webster-pak – has worked directly with Vision Australia and Blind Citizens Australia to help people with low vision and ensure they take their medications correctly.
“In talking with the experts, we discovered that it is much easier for a person with low vision to make out white text against a black background,” says Gerard Stevens, Managing Director of Webstercare.
“This led to the development of Webster-pak LV (low vision), specifically designed to ensure people with low vision are able to take their medications correctly.”
Research has shown it is easier for people with low vision to read a simple, large white font on a black background, as contrast is critical in enhancing visual function, says Webstercare.
The Webster-pak LV is a black pack and uses a simple white san serif font, which is printed in a larger size. The use of uppercase and lowercase letters (sentence case type) also makes the words easier to discern.
“We are grateful to Webstercare for considering the needs of our clients in the design of your product. Their support helps people who have low vision or who are blind to live the lives they choose.” says Andrew Wheeler, Vision Australia Retail Services Manager, Vision Australia.
According to Vision 2020 Australia, it is estimated there are more than 435,000 people who are blind or vision impaired across Australia.
As 11 October is World Sight Day, this is a perfect opportunity for pharmacists to consider how they are supporting patients who have low vision.
This includes asking patients you suspect of having limited vision a simple question such as: “Do you have any difficulty reading the labelling on your medication?”
The Pharmaceutical Journal provides further information on how to support patients with sight loss in the pharmacy, and suggests the following:
Patients with sight loss will often require information about their medication in a different format, which may include large print, email, audio or Braille, explains the journal.
These needs should then be recorded on the patient record system so that the pharmacy team can take appropriate action proactively in the future.