Exploring the potential for using drug indications to prevent look-alike and sound-alike drug errors

Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2017 Oct;16(10):1103-1109. doi: 10.1080/14740338.2017.1358361. Epub 2017 Jul 27.


Background: Look-alike, sound-alike (LASA) drug names are a cause of medication errors with resulting patient harm and healthcare costs. This study assessed to which extent the use of the generic drug name, therapeutic class, health problem, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved indications might be used to differentiate LASA drug pairs.

Research design and methods: We collected information about LASA drug pairs reported by the FDA to have look-alike sound-alike similarities. To assess potential for differentiating LASA drug pairs, we compared the following drug characteristics: generic name, therapeutic class, health problem, and FDA-approved indication.

Results: For the 33 FDA reported LASA drug pairs we identified a total of 432 FDA-approved indications. Using the generic name, therapeutic class, health problem and drug indication we were able to differentiate 8 (24.2%), 24 (72.7%), 25 (75.8%) and 26 (78.8%), respectively of the 33 LASA drug pairs. Using the generic name, therapeutic class, and health problem we were able to distinguish 31 (7.2%), 212 (49.1%), and 269 (62.3%), respectively of the 432 FDA-approved indications for the LASA drug pairs.

Conclusions: Including the FDA-approved indication in the drug prescription may be used to differentiate LASA drug pairs and thus, prevent wrong drug medication errors.

Keywords: Drug safety; FDA; drug errors; look-like drugs; medication indications; sound-like drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Prescriptions*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / prevention & control
  • Drugs, Generic
  • Humans
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / classification*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Drugs, Generic
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations