A trip to IHOP and more thoughts on color

A trip to the local IHOP (@IHOP) this morning for breakfast with my family reminded me of something I saw a couple a weeks ago and this post about the use of color in pharmacy labels. It’s a big of a stretch, I know, but the things that pop into one’s mind aren’t necessarily controlled by logic.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) had the following to say about the use of color in healthcare in 2005:

  • Color matching – application of color to match one item to another—used in the medical device area.
  • Color differentiation – use of color to enhance features on a label, labeling and packaging to distinguish or differentiate one item or product strength from another.
  • Color coding – systematic application of color to aid in identifying, differentiat­ing or classifying a drug generally within the same pharmacological class.
  • Color branding – use of color to differentiate drugs within the same pharmaco­logic class that is managed by a single sponsor.

I think color matching is a good idea. I’ve seen it used for infusion tubing and pharmacy compounding in the IV room, i.e. match the blue end of one tube to the blue end of another tube. Seems logical to me.

Color differentiation is a good idea in my opinion and seems ideally suited for pharmacy labels. I give a good example of that in my previous post mentioned above.

Color coding and color branding are a bit more nebulous, however. I think the use of color to draw attention to a drug – high-alert, pediatrics, refrigeration, chemotherapy, etc – is a good idea, but I think using color to identify a drug, or drug class is dangerous. I think it creates selection bias. What happens if someone thinks all neuromuscular blockers are color coded red and concentrated KCL blue and somehow a bottle of  succinylcholine ends up blue? If someone isn’t paying attention it could be bad news, really bad news.

The IHOP I ate breakfast at a couple of weeks ago used a color coding system for their syrups. I thought it was pretty cool. It didn’t matter to me what color each syrup represented. All I cared about was that I could quickly identify that I had four different syrups in front of me. In addition the writing was clear and easy to read. Fast forward to this morning. My local IHOP isn’t using the new syrup bottles. Instead they use the old fashioned kind with black tops and writing that is difficult to read from afar. I still managed to get the right syrup, but it took longer and required closer inspection.

Anyway, something to think about.

3 thoughts on “A trip to IHOP and more thoughts on color”

  1. Not color blindness, bro. It’s a red-green deficiency, and it’s a genetic trait found in ~10% of men (depending on reference). Doesn’t bother me a bit. I know all my colors. While you and I may disagree on slight differences in shading I know when colors are different.

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