Using icons to convey medication schedule information

Daniel G. Morrow, Von O. Leire, Jill M. Andrassy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined older adult comprehension and memory for medication schedules conveyed by different types of visual icons as well as text. Three icons were compared: a timeline, a pair of 12 h clocks (one for AM and one for PM hours), and a 24 h clock. In Experiment 1, older and younger participants paraphrased and then recalled schedules that were conveyed by the three icons or by text. Text and timeline schedules were paraphrased more accurately than either clock icon. Paraphrase errors suggested that subjects had trouble integrating schedule information across the two 12 h clocks. Analysis of paraphrase times showed that the text schedule was paraphrased most quickly, followed by the timeline, the 24 h clock and the 12 h clock. No differences were found for the accuracy of recalling the icon and text schedules. Experiment 2 examined free and cued recall after limited study time by older adults. Because text superiority in Experiment 1 may have reflected greater familiarity with text than with icons, recall was examined across four trials in Experiment 2. Text was recalled most accurately, followed by the timeline, the 24 h clock and the 12 h Clock. Study-test trials did not influence recall. Text schedules may have been generally more effective than the icons because of their greater familiarity. The timeline may have been the most effective icon because it was more compact and familiar than the clock icons used in the study. The findings suggest that including such icons in medication instructions requires training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-275
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Ergonomics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Adherence
  • Aging
  • Medication instructions
  • Visual icons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics


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