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Will Clearer Labeling Reduce Prescription Errors?

David W. Hodges
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Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing pharmacy error, medical malpractice and personal injury law
Posted on Nov 14, 2012

Many people make medication mistakes daily. While serious medication mix-ups occur in hospitals and at pharmacies each year, many people also make mistakes with their own medications. These mistakes include taking too many pills or not taking enough medicine due to confusing labeling instructions on pill bottles.

In fact, confusing dosing instructions for prescription medications lead to an estimated one million prescription drug errors annually in this country. The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a nonprofit group that helps set drug safety standards, is proposing label changes to help reduce prescription errors.

The USP advocates for standardized medication labels because many patients do not properly understand their medication dosing directions. The concerns include:

  • Prescription labeling is different at many drugstores, causing patient confusion.
  • Dosing directions that read “take two pills twice daily” can cause some patients to take only two pills a day as opposed to taking four pills daily.
  • Instructions that are printed on the pill bottle could read differently but mean the same thing, such as “PO”, “per oral route”, “take orally”, or “take by mouth”; this labeling should be consistent.

The USP would like to use one consistent label on all prescriptions so that patients are never confused. USP’s suggestions for standardization include:

  • Place the drug name, the dosage, and the patient’s instructions at the top of the label
  • Place less important data at the bottom of the label
  • Make dosing instructions more clear and consistent
  • Use simple terms and avoid ambiguous directions
  • Print label in the patient’s language of choice

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