September 5, 2008
More Than Your Brand Is at Stake With Similar Drug Names
No company wants its products mistaken for someone else's, that's why the US Patent and Trademark Office rejects applications it considers "confusingly similar" to existing marks. When your product is a prescription drug, that kind of confusion endangers more than the company's profits.
Yet despite the best efforts of both the USPTO and the FDA, which rejects some 1/3 of proposed new drug names because they sound too much like existing medications, the US Pharmacopeia maintains a list of more than 1,750 drug names that have been confused with one another (the printable list dates from 2004).
Changing all of those names (or even half of them) is impractical. Many have been in use for decades, and it's no surprise if someone mistakes a newer or less common drug name for that of something more familiar. Among those who study ancient manuscripts, this is known as the lectio difficilior potior, because the mistake so rarely happens the other way around. You've probably noticed something similar when the spell-checker wants to correct an unusual word or name you've used to something it recognizes.
So what's to be done, apart from taking greater care in the naming of new drugs? Electronic prescribing, which bypasses the famously poor handwriting of doctors, may be some help, but there's that spell-checker problem. Consumer Reports advocates having your doctor include both generic and brand names, as well as the drug's purpose, on the prescription form.
Now healthcare service iGuard proposes to send out e-mail alerts to patients about possible drug name confusions. And speaking of confusing names, that's iGuard.org, not the iGuard security camera company...
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