Medication Labeling Needs a Redesign

Help! I can’t tell these medications apart!

Doctor as Designer


We have been using a lot of the medications in the above picture in our house lately. And it struck me how easily one might mix up the two because they look exactly alike. It would be a bad idea to apply Cortisone (steroid cream) to something that really needed Bacitracin (antibiotic cream) and vice versa.

If I find this confusing, as a health care provider, it’s an even bigger problem for the average consumer, who isn’t so familiar with medication names and who hasn’t studied pharmacology for their job.

Medication labeling is ripe for a redesign.

That’s why I love the Help medications. This is brilliant design. Instead of highlighting the nondescript trade name, in large letters, front and center, it tells you the reason WHY you are taking the medication in laymen’s terms (Isn’t the word “allergies” much more accessible than “antihistamines”?). It has color coding to distinguish medications, and it has an icon with the pill shape. And it has a nice minimalist design.

The company is explicit about its design intentions in their website:

I totally agree! It’s so true! You only need 4 or 5 pills of your pain reliever but you have this enormous bottle left, and then the next time you need them, all 195 pills have expired!

In addition, they took out the confusing branding and jargon, and poor design of medication labeling.

But best of all they have a fantastic sense of humor that really highlights the drugstore confusion. Check out the video below.

They make me laugh, which is key for a faster recovery, and they even give help in other forms on their website, such as the problem of what fork to use.

I do think there could be other design changes that can improve and reduce medication errors, like using visuals for communicating major side effects, and augmented reality apps that play an educational (and funny) video when you scan the package with your smartphone. What other design improvements would you make to help with the medication confusion? I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to tweet to me at @joyclee.

I have no financial ties to Help Remedies. I just casually appreciate good design that can improve healthcare, and am seduced by good copywriting. ☺



Doctor as Designer

Joyce Lee, MD, MPH, Physician, Designer, ACMIO, #EHR, #learninghealthsystems, #design, #makehealth