The number of Americans dependent on multiple prescription medicines is rising. For millions of patients, keeping track of doses, schedules, and precautions is becoming a big problem.
CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in the US, is betting that better design will fix the problem. Working with Deborah Adler, designer of the widely-admired Target ClearRx system, CVS launched ScriptPath, a simplified, icon-based dosing schedule that shows patients when to take their medication in one glance.
Starting this month, every CVS pharmacy customer in all of their 9,700 branches can request a single-sheet prescription schedule in English or Spanish. Pharmacists will also flag customers with five or more prescriptions so they can walk through the schedule and warn them of any drugs that may cause a bad reaction when taken together.
ScriptPath’s design looks simple and that’s the point. Without a prescription schedule, patients would have to make sense of various instructions for each medication and create a regimen for themselves. And not everyone will have the patience or enough health literacy to read the fine print or write down a schedule.
The work to arrive at a simplified and legible schedule was enormous. “There were several challenges…For example, the labels needed to comply with multiple state Boards of Pharmacy. There are so many rules and regulations in the pharmacy space and they vary from one state to the next. Combining those rules with a dosing chart on a small prescription label is not easy!,” explains Adler, describing a design and development process that lasted for two years.
“The biggest one was probably getting such a large corporation like CVS on board with my idea,” reflects Adler. “However, I would say that challenge was my biggest triumph as well.”
Next year, CVS will also introduce new labels for prescription bottles using the same icons on the dosing schedule. The idea is that when patients line up their medication, they can see a grid like a calendar.
But unlike Target’s revolutionary ClearRx system which literally turned the prescription bottle on its head, the change on CVS’s medicine bottle is subtle. CVS explains that they decided to pour their resources into overhauling the system instead of prototyping a new bottle design which could have delayed the process.
Part of the urgency comes from irate customers who criticized CVS for discontinuing the ClearRx bottles when they acquired Target’s pharmacy business in 2015. Many customers went to the extreme of digging through their trash to rescue and reuse the red ClearRx bottles.
“My original design intention included a redesigned bottle, and of course, I would have loved to do that,” Adler tells Quartz. “But at such a large scale, we had to prioritize, and in this instance the ScriptPath system actually solved many more issues for patients than the bottle. It’s a huge step in the right direction.”