Watch out for drug names that look, sound alike

Watch out for drug names that look, sound alike – Yahoo! News

One of the most common errors made in the health care industry is medication – giving the wrong stuff to the patient. There are a lot of root causes, and this article highlights one of them.

I certainly understand that the commercial pharmaceutical industry wants to establish and maintain brand awareness. And I am equally certain that they don’t really consider it "their problem" if "someone doesn’t pay attention" and prescribes the wrong medication; dispenses the wrong medication; administers the wrong medication or takes the wrong medication.

This is one of the problems with a complex system – where a problem originates in one part, but is only felt in another part.

Ultimately the solution is fairly simple. Assign an alpha-numeric code, not to the brand, but to the formulation, including the strength / dosage. Use that code for all bar coding, RF tags, database records, prescriptions, etc.

If it would help, combine that code with colored labels, backgrounds, shapes, etc. Anything to help visual distinguish one product from another.

This is, of course, not a 100% bullet-proof solution. But humans are really poor at distinguishing similar looking words from one another. We don’t see letters, we hear the sounds. This is an appropriate case where technology, which is well suited for this kind of thing, can be a big help.

Will it eliminate all errors? Of course not. Mislabeling or mixing mistakes are also common. But this would attack the problem cited in the article at its root. Then the companies can name their products anything they want, and we also eliminate all kinds of overburden on the already overworked attorneys.

One Reply to “Watch out for drug names that look, sound alike”

  1. That Yahoo news article is pretty scary. I like your solution. I’ll bet the U.S. Pharmacopeia and the Food and Drug Administration would not consider something like your proposing because the medical industry is not made up of people that “think outside the box”. In other words they feel that the proper name is the proper name, period! And, maybe the drug companies would not want to divulge the formulation and strength of their drugs.

    It’s also scary to consider that the article is only referring to English speaking issues. We need to remember that the world is made up of mostly non-English speaking people. Yet another reason why your idea is a good one.

    I think adding the drug name to the end of the coding system would ease any concerns the drug companies might have. So when they advertise they could use a drug name. Otherwise we might hear, “With 49L8UXW4 you don’t have to worry about being ready when the time is right”.

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