In Sri Lanka most of the general practitioners dispense medications from their practices. When medicine is dispensed necessary information should be mentioned on the label (envelop) to ensure compliance, to get the maximum therapeutic benefit from the medicine and to minimize the risks associated with its use.

Given below are the items of information that should be mentioned on the label.

Name of the patient: This is to prevent others from taking medications prescribed to patient. Name will help to dispense the medications to the intended person from the practice. It also helps prevent mishaps at home. If 2 persons from one household take treatment from the same practice, unless the name has been written it is difficult to identify which packet has been given for whom.

Date: Sometimes people do not discard medicine soon after the illness is over. Unless the date is written it will become difficult to identify the medicine given for the current illness.

Genereic name of the medicine: This will identify the medication inside the packet. It will prevent patient from taking the same medication in addition to what has been dispensed by the doctor such as paracetamol which can be bought over the counter. It is important to write the generic name so as to enable any other doctor who is consulted by the patient to recognize the medications.

Strength of a tablet/capsule: If this item of information is not mentioned, others (apart from the doctor who dispensed the medication) will not know the amount of medication taken by the patient. This information is vital when non packaged medications (loose form) are dispensed and in case the patient has to be treated at another institution for the same illness or a different illness while being on medications.

Dose: To ensure compliance the number of tablets/capsules to be taken per dose should be clearly mentioned. This information prevents patients from taking overdose or under dose.

Frequency: The frequency has to be mentioned, so that the desired therapeutic effect of the medication prescribed is achieved.

Special instructions: Such as “before meals”, “after meals”, “Rinse mouth with water after each use”, “Take in the morning, empty stomach”, “Refrigerate, do not freeze”, “Do not take alcohol while using this medication”, “Do not use ……… days/after opening/preparing” help to give the maximum therapeutic benefit of the medication, prevent adverse effects and to preserve the efficacy of medication.

Route of administration if not oral: It is essential to mention how to administer the medication if it is not oral route. Eg. “for inhalation”, “For local application” etc.

Total number of tablets/capsules: This information is vital in case of a suspected drug over dose to decide how many tablets have been taken by the patient.

Name of the dispensary: Shows from where it has been dispensed.

Telephone number of the dispensary: This will make accessible relevant information about the patient to authorized carers.

Expiry date: To prevent patient from using it after the expiry date.

If one has to write all the details on a blank label or envelop it is time consuming and could lead to omissions. A solution would be to have printed envelops and labels (Figure 1) where the dispenser has to fill in the blanks. It is essential to provide these information in a language easily understood by the patient preferably the mother tongue. To avoid the trouble of applying gum and pasting a label on a bottle, a self adhesive label (sticker) could be made with minimal cost these days. This saves time and ensures that the label will be there for the required period.

The use of proper labels will result in reduction in medication errors, both in the doctor’s practice as well as in the patient’s home.


Figure 1dispensing envelope

Dr. R P J C Ramanayake

This article was published in the May 2014 issue of the college newsletter “My College”