On November 20, 2009, Sandra Gabriele presented a talk entitled Visual Differentiation in Look-alike Medication Names: Evaluating Design in Context.
With regards to errors in a hospital setting, Sandra Gabriele's design background has allowed her to look into how the design of medication labels may affect the frequency of errors. The paper on which the majority of her talk is based can be located here. A link to another related paper can be found here. Since the paper can be easily found above, I will type about some specific aspects of her talk rather than summarizing her paper.
When looking at hospital medicine storage, a simple visual audit shows a number of areas for potential confusion. Gabriele's work does not eliminate all possible problems, certainly with other improvements further change could be implemented, however. During the talk, I asked how she came across this area of study. She explained that she had taken a human factors psychology elective which had opened her eyes to this area of research. I found this particularly salient as human factors has intrigued me as an area of study since taking a social psychology course that covered that subject area.
All of her designs used black and white to differentiate different types of medicines rather than using colour. Her explaination for why this was the case was four-fold. Firstly many hospitals still do not have the technology necessary to print in all colours. Secondly, one would want to avoid branding when placing medicine names on packaging. Thirdly, there are individuals who have a wide variety of colour perception differences. For examples of how people with different types of colour blindness perceive images, this website can be used. Lastly, Gabriele explained that you don't actually remember colour visually. This means that one person might remember that an object was blue, but they would not necessarily be able to replicate that precise blue later.
I found this area of research highly intriguing: it is somehow satisfying to see someone from a superficially unrelated discipline attempt to find avenues for change that could result in improvements in the health care field.
In the coming months and years, Gabriele and others will continue to investigate this phenomenon, determining exactly what the best practices for medicine labeling could be to decrease mistakes.