In the 1970s, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set a series of regulatory steps in place to ensure labelling on prescription drugs were clear and concise. Today, British patients are protected by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHPA), the agency that determines the industry standard for medicine labelling. However, it is not just patients that benefit from clear medication labelling.

Here, Adrian Pittock of pharmacy packaging specialist, Valley Northern, explains the importance of labelling for healthcare professionals working in hospitals, pharmacies and doctors’ practices.

Admittedly, almost every industry sector has strict standards associated with packaging and labelling. While it may be a hard pill to swallow, the consequences of incorrect labelling in the pharmaceutical industry can be fatal.

Considering the consequences of incorrect labelling, patients put a significant amount of faith in the hands of pharmacists, trusting that the medication they have been prescribed is labelled correctly — every time. As experts in medication, pharmacists have a significant role to play in patient safety.

One of the first tasks qualified pharmacists are required to carry out is to read and interpret a medicine prescription — regardless of whether they know anything about the patient’s medical background or history. Naturally, medication safety is at the forefront of all these healthcare practitioners’ minds, but even in this highly accurate field, mistakes do happen.  

To reduce the likelihood of accidental errors in labelling, it is vital that pharmacies develop a standard procedure for managing labelling. For example, Valley Northern’s Status® range of pharmacy labels provides customers with over 30 distinct labels with instructions for both the pharmacist and customer. These include vital instructions for patient safety, such as details of medication expiry dates and notifications for chemotherapy patients.

Four new labels have recently been introduced to the range, at the request of Valley Northern’s customers. However, the company also welcomes pharmacies to get in touch if they have any bespoke requests for label designs.

While patient safety is important, labels can also help pharmacies to avoid errors in relation to medication storage. For example, by notifying the pharmacist of the required storage temperature of a medicine by using an easily identifiable label, pharmacies can avoid damaging products that are sensitive to temperature.

In addition, labels can aid basic administration tasks in pharmacies. The Status® range of pharmacy labels include stickers that provide simple instructions to the pharmacist, such as whether the patient is required to pay for the medicine, if the medicine needs to be delivered and whether a patient signature is needed.  This can significantly reduce patient waiting time and simplify the prescription collection or delivery process.  

The importance of medication labelling for patient safety is widely understood. However, pharmacies should also exploit this simple labelling technique to aid pharmacy administration and medication handling by healthcare practitioners. Not only could this improve basic operations in the pharmacy, but potentially avoid fatal errors.