Tallman lettering as a strategy for differentiation in look-alike, sound-alike drug names: the role of familiarity in differentiating drug doppelgangers

Appl Ergon. 2016 Jan;52:77-84. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2015.06.009. Epub 2015 Jul 20.


Tallman lettering, capitalizing the dissimilar portions of easily confused drug names, is one strategy for reducing medication errors. We assessed the efficacy of Tallman lettering in a visually complex environment using a change detection method with healthcare providers and laypeople. In addition, the effect of familiarity with the drug name was assessed using a subset of responses collected from healthcare providers. Both healthcare providers and laypeople detected changes in confusable pairs of drug names more often (P < 0.0001) and more quickly (P < 0.05) when changes were presented in Tallman lettering, though the benefits were more pronounced for healthcare providers (p < 0.05). Familiarity with both drug names in a confusable pair mitigated the benefit of Tallman lettering. Results are discussed in terms of bottom-up and top-down attentional systems for processing of information in the context of the varied healthcare environments.

Keywords: Drug labeling; Look-alike sound-alike drug names; Medication error; Name differentiation; Tallman lettering; Text differentiation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Drug Labeling / methods*
  • Drug Labeling / standards
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control
  • Middle Aged
  • Phonetics
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Young Adult