drug fact box
An example of a drug fact box for Abilify from the New York Times

What if drug companies made simple, easy to understand labels for your prescription, the way food companies do with nutrition labels? According to Steven Woloshin and Lisa M. Schwartz, the authors of Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics, consumers might make different choices about which medicines to take.

They advocate for drug fact boxes like the one pictured at left on all prescriptions in a recent op-ed for the New York Times. Woloshin and Schwartz write that “Federal regulations already require disclosure of important side effects. But there is no rule about how this data should be presented, and no requirement at all to provide data on how well drugs work compared with placebos or other drugs. Unlike the case with other products, consumers can’t learn how well many medications work just by trying them.”Know Your Chances

Unfortunately, the authors say, the Department of Health and Human Services was asked last year to investigate the drug fact boxes and provide a recommendation on whether or not to require them, but has declared it needs another three years to come to a decision.

For Woloshin and Schwartz, the evidence in favor of requiring the boxes is clear. They say “the only way [patients] can come to an informed decision is by seeing the data. Otherwise, they can only guess — and studies show that they usually guess wrong.”

Read the full op-ed at the New York Times’ website, and learn more about how to sort through the daily barrage of health warnings and interpret the numbers behind them in Know Your Chances.