Survey: Pharmacists Say Distinctive Tablets Reduce Dispensing Errors

August 24, 2006
Pharmaceutical Technology Editors

ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

West Point, PA (Jul. 31)?A survey of 150 US pharmacists found that nearly 80% believe that "multiple look-alike medications" make it difficult for consumers to identify the correct medication, especially when the drugs are moved to unlabeled containers.

Survey: Pharmacists Say Distinctive Tablets Reduce Dispensing Errors

West Point, PA (Jul. 31) – A survey of 150 US pharmacists found that nearly 80% believe that "multiple look-alike medications" make it difficult for consumers to identify the correct medication, especially when the drugs are moved to unlabeled containers. The study was conducted by Paragon Research & Consulting and sponsored by Colorcon, Inc. (www.colorcon.com), producer of coatings and excipients.  A press release summarizing the survey (http://www.primezone.com/newsroom/news.html?d=102806) notes that pharmacy boards in California, Wyoming, and Oregon now require that prescription-medication labels include the color, shape, and identifying marks appearing on the tablets or capsules.  


"Clear identification of medications by both pharmacists and patients is extremely important in reducing medication error," the statement quotes James Carder, Executive Director of the Wyoming Board of Pharmacy. "As the number of discrete solid dose tablet offerings continues to grow, differentiation is becoming more difficult for pharmacists, nurses, physicians, patients and caregivers, and errors are hard to avoid when so many of these medications look alike. Clearly identifiable medicines can help reduce dispensing error, and help ensure patient safety and compliance."


The pharmacists surveyed rated color and shape as the traits consumers use most often to identify medications, followed by imprinted numerical codes, drug names, or logos. Look-alike medications (79% of respondents) and unreadable imprinted codes (74%) topped the pharmacists' list of factors contributing to identification difficulties.


Nearly 70% of respondents reported patients ask them for help identifying out-of-the-package tablets or capsules least once a week. (Nearly 40% of the reported identification requests come from customers aged 65-84, and 36% from customers aged 45-64.)


A 2004 survey conducted by an expert committee of the US Pharmacopeia, the Colorcon report notes, indicated that practitioners and pharmacists believe that current tablet identification tools should be improved and that the industry and FDA should work together toward this goal (Expert Committee Meeting Summaries: Safe Medication Use Expert Committee, U.S. Pharmacopeia.  Oct. 11–12, 2004. http://www.usp.org/USPNF/meetingSummaries/2004/10-11.html).