Message in a Bottle

Designers find that the cure to a pervasive health-care problem lies in the pill container itself.

The standard-issue amber pill bottle with the white safety cap works well enough to keep medicine out of the wrong hands, but it does little to protect the intended user. Misuse of prescriptions—including taking the wrong dosage or drug and forgetting to take the pills altogether—causes an estimated 218,000 deaths annually. “A lot of attention has been given to issues such as physician prescribing, computerized records, and the like, but very little has been paid to the what happens once the prescription gets bottled and dispensed,” UCLA School of Public Health dean Linda Rosenstock says.

Graphic designer Deborah Adler’s brilliant ClearRx lable for Target is distinctly legible. South African physician David Green’s SIMpill and Talking Rx, conceived by pharmacist John Dobbins, capitalize on interactive technologies. The lucidity with which microelectronic chips and cell phones are used in these products is noteworthy since we tend to perceive technology as prohibitive—especially for the elderly, who disproportionately misuse their meds. Twenty-three percent of nursing-home admissions occur because patients are unable to take prescriptions without supervision. So in addition to helping all of us comply with doctors’ orders, these designs—which make instructions easier to follow and provide alerts to prevent patient error—may also facilitate an aging or chronically ill person’s independence.

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