Health & wellness

Daily Dose

Same medication, but different pills

Medication adherence is one of the biggest challenges doctors face when trying to control chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and now a study suggests that when patients are switched to generic medications with a different color or shape, they’re more likely to stop taking the drug.

In the study published last week in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital culled through a database of patients who stopped taking anti-seizure medications for epilepsy and found that those who had been switched to a generic medication that looked different from their previous prescription were more likely to have discontinued their treatment.

Color switches appeared to account for 1 out of 400 cases of non-adherence, which isn’t huge but can add up over time considering how often people refill medications; seniors, who typically take nine medications that are each refilled at least four times a year, may have 36 opportunities each year to get switched to different-looking pills.


“We teach patients to know what their pills look like — to avoid medication errors — but we also need to teach them that these pills could change on a month-to-month basis,” said the study leader, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an internist at the Brigham.