Are Spelling Errors Lethal? When It Comes to Medical Packaging, You Bet

Text inspection on globalvision on cartoon background

Date: September, 2017 | CategoryProofreading Author: Marvin Magasura

What’s at stake with a product misspelling?

For any other type of business, it would mean a complete recall – costly, but maybe otherwise harmless. When it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, a whole other set of issues could present themselves.

Setting aside the financial costs of a recall and time lost fixing the issues, we have to keep in mind the obvious: Patients rely on their prescriptions to help them maintain their health. Errors in pharma labeling can be devastating because they lead to drug misuse and the appearance of potentially lethal consequences.

So, what might be an unfortunate and mild inconvenience for almost any other type of company, becomes a major, life-threatening issue for pharmaceuticals. The risk placed on people’s lives, the money and time you have to consume, and the damage to your company’s image and reputation make pharma labeling a process that must be undertaken with extra care and meticulous attention to detail. Sadly, however, misspellings in the pharma industry continue to happen time and again.

Why does a process that’s supposed to be highly technical and scrupulous keep encountering problems with labeling issues? It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason, mainly because medical packaging methods and techniques are different for every company.

Let’s stop to analyze some common causes of medical and pharmaceutical spelling errors and what we can do to eradicate them.

Medical Terms Are Difficult to Understand

For the average person, medical terminology can be like an alien language. Most medical terms have their roots in Latin or Greek, which can make them hard to decipher. We also have to keep in mind that medical terms can often sound alike but have different meanings.

Old lady reading pill labels with the pharmacist

Differentiating between the two is simple for a doctor, but almost everybody else cannot, making them difficult to understand. Pharma terms are completely different, as they often don’t relate to anything even an experienced doctor has ever heard of. Names of drugs are harder to get right because most of the time they might not even make any sense to the casual observer.

The truth is there is a lot of time and money spent on the branding process of a drug. The name has to be appealing while also remaining original and not too similar to the names of other drugs.

Take “Lamictal” and “Lamisil”. The former is an anticonvulsant used to treat seizures in adults and children and also helps delay mood episodes in adults with bipolar disorder, while the latter is used to treat fungal infections. Just think of the consequences of what would happen if someone were to confuse the two drugs.

One of the main reasons why the Food and Drug Administration rejects drug names is because of name similarity. The aim is to prevent doctors and pharmacists from confusing the names and administering the wrong drugs.

In spite of these efforts, generic drug names can also be quite similar to each other. It’s easy to mix up names like “tramadol”, “trazodone”, and “toradol”, “acetohexamide” and “acetazolamide”, or even “cycloserine” and “cyclosporine”. This is especially true if companies use manual quality control methods. But the main reason spelling mistakes in the pharma industry are so common is due to the fact that regular people don’t use these words on a daily basis.

Manual vs. Automated Spell Checks

Many growing businesses today face an important question: Should you hire more people or should you automate your packing operation? While current studies lean towards automated technology, both this and manual methods have their own disadvantages.

When it comes to reducing costs, manual processing might seem cheaper than investing in automated technology. Of course, you have to remember humans are prone to making mistakes. So, adding extra workers to your process also means increasing the likelihood of errors.

Statistics show that over 80% of process deviations in the pharmaceutical business are caused by human error, so investing in automation is actually a great way to reduce the cost of recalls and fines due to labeling mistakes. In a manual process, labels usually go through several sets of eyes before being approved. It’s reassuring to know that 6, 8, or even 10 people proofread something before sending it to printing, right? Not quite.

Team collaboration on the product packaging layout, design, and content

Think of it this way: The first person may quickly look it over, knowing there are many people left in the process to catch any mistakes, then the second person will think,

“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine; The last person didn’t find anything and, if I’m wrong, there’s still a lot of people left to review it.”

When the product reaches the last person, they may not feel comfortable contradicting all the previous proofreaders, so, if they spot a mistake, instead of flagging it they could be more inclined to think,

“Maybe it’s meant to be like that?”

Cynical? Perhaps, but that’s how simple spelling errors can go unnoticed or even ignored all the way to drugstore counters. It’s up to manufacturers to develop systems that can detect these types of errors and make sure your product is up to standard.

Simple actions, like providing clear instructions, maintaining good communications, and ensuring your employees have all the qualifications needed for the job, can definitely save you from a lot of trouble.

However, don’t let yourself fall into a false sense of security if your company uses automated technologies like medical spell checkers; Most medical dictionaries have their own challenges to overcome. In the end, it’s fair to say the main reason packaging and quality control methods seem to fail is not a matter of the type of process you implement but rather how you set it into motion.

The Medical Spell-Checker and Pharma Dictionary

Big companies with high proofreading demands can benefit from using automated spell-check tools. These programs are able to catch errors so quickly that proofreading a text might end up being unnecessary; why do it yourself if a machine can do it for you?

The truth of the matter is that getting the right spelling tool for your company can be a difficult task, especially if you’re in the pharmaceutical business. In the current market, there are plenty of options for word-processor programs that include pharma and medical dictionaries, like Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, yet many of these automated tools are far from perfect. Most of them still need to overcome many challenges in order to truly save time for companies.

In a world where medical technology is always moving forward, new treatment alternatives are being developed every single day. That’s why it is so disheartening to learn that new drugs and medical terms represent a big problem for these programs. While spell-check tools will automatically correct any mistyped letters for common words, new medical words and pharma terms can easily be overlooked if they’re not incorporated into the medical dictionary of the program.

Imagine you are tasked with dealing with a brand-new drug that is just about to go to market. These types of programs will not guarantee you proper spelling because they simply won’t know the drug’s correct name. This is the reason why customized pharma dictionaries are so important when it comes to medical packaging.

The GlobalVision Spelling Inspection Tool

With over half a million technical terms, drug names, ingredients, and medical terminology included, GlobalVision’s unique spelling inspection software is proven to be the best of its kind on the market right now.

illustration showing Arabic Chinese and other languages on a global vision software

The best thing about GV’s spelling tool vs other alternatives is that it was created thinking of the medical packaging industry, integrating thousands of highly technical and commonly used terms so that you can make sure your ingredient lists, components, excipients, dosages, or any other info is 100% accurate and correctly spelled.

Its customized pharma dictionary allows you to build your own library and includes unique terms for your organization, like your brand name or newly developed products. This is an incredibly valuable feature, created to accommodate the latest pharma and medical terms and prevent misspellings related to new medical treatments. If your company provides packaging for other countries, the GlobalVision spelling inspection tool can also check the spelling of foreign language words, including:


If you value true flexibility, the Spelling Inspection tool is perfect for you. It allows you to perform complete spell-checks of your text in many formats, including Adobe® Illustrator®, PDFs, Microsoft® Word®, and web sites. The Spelling Inspection Report is also a unique feature included in this program. It generates a report every time you finish doing an inspection of your work, helping you track your progress and send the final product up for approval.


Millions of people rely on pharmaceutical companies to receive the right treatment. With all the methods and technology available today, there is no excuse for misspellings in the 21st-century medical packaging industry. Although labeling errors will most likely keep appearing in the near future, these companies must always strive for perfection by remaining up to speed with current packaging quality control services, making GlobalVision Spelling Inspection software not just one of the best, but one of the only choices they can make.

GlobalVision is the leading developer of quality control technologies for retail and pharmaceutical packaged goods.

See for yourself why Simon Lacroix, Quality Control technician at CCL Label, called GlobalVision

“One-hundred percent effective.”

→  Check out our Customer Story on CCL Label

Learn more about manual proofreading errors

Ensure your labels are consistently meeting labeling requirements and get your complete guide here. 

Read how some of the world’s top pharma companies have cracked the efficiency code with automation.