World Patient Safety Day is celebrated every year on September 17. It is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to enhance global understanding of patient safety, increase public engagement and promote global actions to reduce patient harm. The theme for 2022 is “Medication Safety,” and the associated slogan is “Medication Without Harm.” But what exactly is medication safety? We’re glad you asked.

Medication safety is a subset of patient safety, and, according to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention (NCCMERP), a medication error is defined as:

“…any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, healthcare products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing, order communication, product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature, compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, monitoring, and use.”

The responsibility of medication error prevention is shared among patients, healthcare practitioners, regulatory bodies and the pharmaceutical industry. That’s why medication safety is central to everything we do at Addison Whitney in our pharmaceutical branding partnerships with industry clients.

Why branding and patient safety are related

You may be wondering why, as a branding company, we take medication safety so seriously. The answer lies within patient safety. Although medication errors have myriad causes, many of which are practice related and beyond the control of the company that is marketing the product, regulatory bodies, such as the FDA and EMA, can reject a name or proposed container label if they feel either may lead to confusion or a medication error. Therefore, if we fail to prioritize patient safety throughout our processes, your brand will more than likely be rejected in the name of patient safety.

Mitigating medication errors through branding

Through our collaborative process, Addison Whitney’s medication safety experts and design gurus tirelessly work together to help prevent medication errors when branding your asset. We consider a pharmaceutical product’s name, design, package and container label, which all have an enormous impact on whether the product will be prone to error when introduced into the complex healthcare system. Here area few examples of how patient safety and medication error prevention can be incorporated into branding:

Example 1: What are the first few letters of the drug name, and what other drug names contain the same letter strings? Could this be a cause of confusion?

A common cause of product selection errors comes from typing the first few letters of the drug name into an electronic prescribing system. A “real-life” example happened a few years ago and led to a patient’s death. The intended “Versed” was confused with “vecuronium” by typing “VE” into the system and choosing the wrong drug from the order entry screen.

While this particular error was extreme and had numerous causes converging at once, it demonstrates the importance of considering all scenarios when evaluating a name for confusion — including the appearance of the name on a computerized order entry screen, in print or handwritten medication orders, as well as spoken communication of a medication name. Our medication safety experts analyze these scenarios with the knowledge of how medication errors occur and how each unique product fits into the drug use process.

Example 2: What colors are used on the container label? Can products or strengths be confused?

Look-alike similarity leading to a medication error can occur when trade dress is applied consistently across many products in a line. Trade dress similarities can be compounded by similar-looking numbers (e.g., 6 and 8, 3 and 8) and the typeface used to express them, potentially leading to error.

Additional issues that can lead to label-related medication errors include inaccurate placement of container label elements, cluttered labels and confusing expressions of the product’s dose or concentration.

Example 3: Why are there two names for the same drug product?

Sometimes, a second name (known as a dual-name strategy) is used for a medication that is used to treat two different conditions. This can cause confusion if patients and practitioners are not aware of the existence of the two products and how they may differ in dose, administration schedule or patient population. Luckily, the decision (by regulatory bodies) to grant multiple brand names for one medication is rooted in the potential for errors to occur — especially if an incorrect dose could lead to significant harm or there is a chance that the same patient could receive both products at the same time. Our medication safety experts are well-versed in the pros and cons of various nomenclature strategies and can determine early in the branding process the best approach for the lifecycle of a product.

These are just a few examples of how patient safety, medication error prevention and branding intersect. Addison Whitney has the experience to navigate the clinical and regulatory implications of branding while incorporating unparalleled creativity. To us, every day is “Patient Safety Day.”