Understanding Medication Schedules: Do Pictograms Help?

Madeline Leong, Vernissia Tam, Timothy Xu, Matthew Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background Previous studies suggest that pictograms may improve patients' understanding of medication schedules. Understanding a medication schedule is a necessary first step for medication adherence. Objective This study aimed to determine if pictograms improved patients' ability to correctly fill a pillbox. Design This is a randomized, controlled, crossover pilot study. Participants This study involves 30 patients on the medical wards of an urban, tertiary care center. Main Measures The PillBox Test required participants to fill a 7-day pillbox with pill-sized colored beads. Participants were randomized to either the control or the experimental condition first. In the control condition, a standard pillbox was used with text instructions on the pill bottles. In the experimental condition, a pictogram pillbox was used with text and pictogram instructions on the pill bottles. Key Results There was no significant difference in passing on text or pictogram PillBox Test based on the order of group administration. However, 77% of participants reported that pictograms helped them understand medication instructions, 67% of participants preferred pictograms, and 93% felt pictograms should be used on all medication labels. Conclusions In this pilot study, the use of pictograms did not significantly improve participants' ability to correctly fill a pillbox. However, most participants preferred pictograms to text labels. Further research is needed to determine the efficacy of pictograms in specific populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e19-e24
JournalJournal of patient safety
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • medication adherence
  • patient instructions
  • patient safety
  • pillbox

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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