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Law forcing pharmacies to scan drugs could reduce ‘look-alike’ errors

An EU directive forcing every pharmacy to install barcode scanners by 2019 could reduce errors caused by similar-looking medicines, Well Pharmacy’s superintendent has said.

The Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) will require new packs of prescription medicine to have a barcode and an anti-tampering device (ATD). From February 9, 2019, every pharmacy in the UK will be required to check the ATD and scan the barcode to 'decommission' the medicine.

Well superintendent Janice Perkins – who is also chair of the Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Group – told C+D: “Some of the most common dispensing errors are well known look-alike sound-alike issues and this is an ongoing challenge.”

“The use of barcode scanning has the potential to virtually eliminate this issue,” she said last month at the Clinical Pharmacy Congress (April 27).

A National Pharmacy Association (NPA) Medication Safety Officer (MSO) report stated that, between October and December 2017, there had been an “increase in serious cases” of look-alike sound-alike errors involving drugs such as esomeprazole and escitalopram, and rabeprazole and rivaroxaban.

“Secondary care has done some great work” as part of its ‘scan for safety’ project – the introduction of barcoding standards – and Ms Perkins said “FMD also has the ability to facilitate this [in community pharmacy] as products will be scanned as part of the decommissioning process”.

WHO global patient safety challenge

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global patient safety challenge, launched in March 2017, identified “confusing ‘look-alike sound-alike’ medicines names and/or labelling and packaging” as “frequent sources of error and medication-related harm” around the globe.

The Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Group – which consists of representatives of all of the larger pharmacy chains, as well as the NPA – has been "challenged" by England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge as part of the WHO initiative, said Ms Perkins.

The group will be “working with NHS Improvement on [look-alike sound-alike errors] in the coming months and also exploring the human factors relating to this”, Ms Perkins explained.

“We all know [look-alike sound-alike errors have] been happening for a long period of time. If it was easy to fix then it would have been fixed,” she added. “The use of technology might take us into a different perspective with that.”

Do you think installing scanners will make your pharmacy safer?

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