Life would be so much easier—and safer—if drug packaging was designed with pharmacists in mind, writes Angelo Pricolo

Sometimes we walk around the dispensary looking at things and wonder why they are so. Pretty deep for a pharmacist.

So many drugs are not packaged in pharmacy friendly ways. Where do we begin! It makes us wonder if pharmacists ever have any input before the drug hits the shelf. If they did I’m sure it would not just benefit the pharmacist but ultimately improve patient outcomes and costs.

How hard is it to get the safety seal off an antibiotic mixture? But one company has put a little tab on the seal so without the aid of a device (that you can never find when you need it) one can simply peel off the barrier and reconstitute the powder.

Maybe some of us are showing our age but with regard to those antibiotic mixtures, could they make the font any smaller? Surely the volume needed to add to the powder could be made a little clearer.

A significant proportion of dispensing errors occur due to inadequate manufacturer labelling. This is a compelling statement in anyone’s language.

Drug companies love to follow a theme with their products to reinforce the brand. Unfortunately this often adversely impacts on the very products they are selling and we are dispensing. There are so many examples where two packs of the same molecule look identical except for the strength of the drug. This can be such a subtle difference that making a dispensing error over time is almost inevitable.

The same can be said for different dose forms. Cream or ointment can easily be interchanged when the labelling does not distinctly differentiate the two products. From a pharmacist’s point of view we need different colours and designs to clearly assist recognition of strengths and dose forms. Conversely, not providing this really only increases the likelihood of the error taking place.

It is easy to say we should be more careful but we all know human error can always creep in. Why would anyone not want to minimise this risk? Manufacturers, big pharma, generic companies…. Please read and act on this plea!

Lots of pharmacists are getting a bit frustrated with Cautionary and Advisory Labels (CALS). Wouldn’t it be a great world where the drug company complied with requirements and agreed with regulators to include the CAL on the box? If the box also left a space for the dispense label the CAL could be positioned appropriately. Everybody wins!

The other annoying habit by some manufacturers is labelling to ensure a product sits on the shelf in a particular orientation. That is it encourages, even ensures, the product has maximum exposure or shelf space. This is understandable but still frustrating for front-of-shop products but totally unacceptable in the dispensary. These drugs need identifiable labelling on as many facings as possible to minimise the possibility of errors.

Although we all understand the importance of the trade name for marketing purposes, the generic name of the drug is also very important. Whether it’s a pharmacist dispensing or a patient checking their drug, especially with the explosion of generics, this is a safety issue.

Drug companies are always trying to ensure they have superior products to their competitors. They compete on price but often disregard factors that make a difference to the pharmacist and the end user. The more energy put into these considerations and maybe a little less on self-serving ventures could go a long way to building a reputation rather than alienating a customer.

Angelo Pricolo is a National Councillor with The Pharmacy Guild of Australia and a member of the PSA Harm Minimisation Committee.