ICADI Proceedings, January, 2006

Effective and Confidential Communication of Prescription Information:  Accommodating the Blind and Visually-Impaired

The International Conference on Aging, Disability and Independence (ICADI) Proceedings
(January, 2006).

John Little, JD, MSPH, CHE, CHC

John Little has served as General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Chief Privacy Officer at two national healthcare companies, is Board Certified in Healthcare Management and Board Certified in Healthcare Compliance, and is currently engaged in the private practice of healthcare law.

Abstract. Individuals with vision disabilities face unique difficulties in their attempt to utilize prescription information such as medication descriptions, dosage instructions, side-effect warnings and other information often considered to be detailed and complex, yet essential.  Similarities in container shapes and sizes along with having multiple prescription medications compound these problems. Sighted pharmacy customers are obvious beneficiaries of U.S. state and federal requirements obligating pharmacies to provide detailed, written medication information to prescription containers.  These requirements govern both the content of the information and the duty to physically affix or attach the content to prescription containers.  The U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) addresses the obligation of pharmacies to provide their blind and visually-impaired customers with effective auxiliary communication aids.  The U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy regulations require pharmacies to permit their customers, individually, to request that communications of the customer's protected health information be made by alternative means. Currently, the most commonly utilized auxiliary method of communicating prescription medication information to the blind and visually-impaired is face-to- face counseling.  This method is also one of the most ineffective at communicating complex, detailed medication information to this population and can be considered one of the most burdensome methods that may be implemented by pharmacies. Recent technological advances, however, have led to the development of Audible Prescription Labeling Systems (APLS) specifically designed for blind and visually-impaired pharmacy customers, providing such customers, for the first time, a meaningful opportunity to enjoy the ability to keep their prescription medication information private.  While each of the available APLS communication aids has a relatively insignificant impact on pharmacy expenses and operations, they do vary in communication effectiveness. One of the four available APLS communication aids on the market overcomes issues related to communication effectiveness and pharmacy burden by utilizing text-to-speech technology and a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) enabled label that securely affixes to any type of prescription medication container, including odd-shaped glass and plastic bottles, blister packs and boxes.