Preferences for and experiences with pill appearance changes: national surveys of patients and pharmacists

Am J Manag Care. 2020 Aug;26(8):340-347. doi: 10.37765/ajmc.2020.44070.


Objectives: To better understand patients' and pharmacists' preferences for and experiences with changes in pill appearance (size, shape, color, and markings).

Study design: Cross-sectional.

Methods: We conducted independent national surveys of patients 50 years and older taking generic drugs for depression, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV, hyperlipidemia, or hypertension and of licensed pharmacists practicing in chain, franchise, or independent pharmacies. Responses were collected between January and April 2016.

Results: Of 1000 patient respondents (30% response rate), most reported experiencing changes in pill appearance (51%) and preferred to be notified about them (82%), but less than half recalled being notified (verbally: 36%; via sticker: 45%). Among patients who reported experiencing a change, 12% reported stopping their medication or using it less frequently. Of 710 pharmacist respondents (33% response rate), many reported changes in pill appearance occurring frequently in their pharmacies (47% reported that changes occurred 6 or more times per month) and more than three-fourths reported notifying patients about them often (verbally: 88%; via sticker: 77%).

Conclusions: Our findings reveal opportunities to improve patients' experiences with pill appearance changes through better notification practices and patient education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drugs, Generic*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pharmacists / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Tablets*


  • Drugs, Generic
  • Tablets