International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 4–8 | Cite as

Look-alike and sound-alike medicines: risks and ‘solutions’

  • Lynne M. EmmertonEmail author
  • Mariam F. S. Rizk


‘Look-alike, sound-alike’ medicines are associated with dispensing errors. This commentary aims to fuel discussion surrounding how drug name nomenclature and similar packaging between medicines can lead to selection errors, the need for enhanced approval systems for medicine names and packaging, and best practice ‘solutions’. The literature reveals a number of environmental risks and human factors that can contribute to such errors. To contextualise these risks, we interviewed 13 quality and safety experts, psycholinguists, and hospital and community pharmacy practitioners in Australia, and commissioned a medical software industry expert to conceptualise electronic initiatives. Environmental factors contributing to such errors, identified through both the literature and interviews, include distractions during dispensing; workflow controls should minimise the ‘human factors’ element of errors. Technological solutions with some support, and yet recognised limitations, include font variations, automated alerts, barcode scanning and real-time reporting programmed into dispensing software; further development of these initiatives is recommended.


Dispensing Drugs Errors Human factors Look-alike sound-alike Medicines Nomenclature Packaging Risks 



The authors gratefully acknowledge assistance from all pharmacists and drug safety and psycholinguistics experts who enthusiastically participated in this study and shared resources to contribute to this research.


This work was supported by the Pharmacy Research Trust, administered by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Queensland Branch Committee. MR was the recipient of a University of Queensland Summer Scholarship.

Conflicts of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Pharmacy, Curtin Health Innovation Research CentreCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  2. 2.School of PharmacyThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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