A new EU directive designed to prevent counterfeit medicines from entering into the supply chain could also have a positive effect on dispensing errors in pharmacies, an expert has said.
The Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) is set to become law on February 9th 2019 and will require all new packs of medication to be fitted with an anti-tampering device and a barcode that pharmacists must scan to release them.
Chair of the Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Group Janice Perkins told Chemist + Druggist magazine that this could not only reduce criminal activity, but also lower the chances of errors occurring with similar-looking medicines.
"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 added.
Indeed, the World Health Organisation has highlighted look-alike, sound-alike medicine names and similar packaging as among the most frequent sources of error and medicine-related harm around the globe.
The National Pharmacy Association also said in a recent report that there had been a significant increase in the number of errors that involved look-alike, sound-alike drugs, including rabeprazole and rivaroxaban.
This could cause serious harm to patients if they were to take medicines that had not been prescribed to them.
As of next February, the FMD will require everyone who supplies drugs to patients to verify the medicines' authenticity by scanning barcodes and checking anti-tampering devices.
Every pack will have a unique serial number stored in a European Medicines Verification Organisation database. When the pack is scanned in the pharmacy, it will 'check out' the medication by sending a message to the database and effectively decommissioning it if it is safe.
Should the system identify that the pack has already been decommissioned, pharmacists will be issued with a warning alert not to dispense it.
It has been suggested that extra features could be added once the system is in use, such as pharmacists being able to double-check patients' prescriptions using the database, or having built-in patient information videos, the Pharmaceutical Journal reported.
In the meantime, the new directive is likely to require some getting used to by those in pharmacy jobs in the community or in hospitals.