Designing Your Pharmacy Labels for Safety and Efficiency

Share This Post

My guess is that you probably haven’t given much thought to your labels since your pharmacy opened. After all, it has everything on there it needs and does the job, right? Why mess with it?

That’s too bad, because as I’ve worked on our labels I’ve realized just how much potential there is to make dispensing safer and improve efficiency in the pharmacy. This is not about speed in counting, but reducing time wasted.

If you want to make changes, your software vendor likely has a label team that can work with you on it. I would recommend either contacting your rep or just calling the help desk and asking for the ‘label team.’ They should be able to figure out what that means.

In this post, we’ll take a look at label design and see where a lot of simple tweaks can add up to a free, easy improvement in your workflow.

My experience with label changes

Here is the final product we came up with at the pharmacy (obviously all test names/addresses/DOB/etc made up by QS1). We made a few changes after, which I’ll describe as we go through it.

This label is a laser label from Integral. For the most part I really like it; if I had to change one thing, though (in case anyone at Integral is reading this), the auxiliary labels should be completely attached to the prescription label so we don’t have to either peel them off one-by-one or use tape to flag them on the vial.

Overall, though, this is a good visual for us to get started:

Label type

The choices are generally either:

  • The label and leaflet coming out separately (using a thermal printer for the labels)
  • Combined labels with both coming out at the same time.

Best Practice:

Combined labels, and have the entire thing come out after barcode-scanning the NDC.

The problem with the first option is that you will waste a lot of time matching labels up to leaflets as the pile up on the printer. When it gets busy, it’s enough wasted time that either leaflets won’t get put with the prescription or it will increase wait times. Typically it’s a combination of both happening and it also prevent the wrong leaflet from ending up in a patient’s bag (more on that later).

When we went to a combined label I was shocked (and I think most of our staff were) how much easier it was, and therefore how much of a headache separate the label/leaflet setup was.

The label for the vial

We currently have the tablet description on the white sticker below the auxiliary labels, but it’s hard to fit on the vial. These labels were the best ones the company had, but the best thing would be to have a) the tablet description and b) the auxiliary labels already attached to the label for the vial. There is no chance, then, that either would go missing on a vial.

The other big thing here is the discard date. Most pharmacies pre-print the beyond-use date, but this is really not a safe practice. When it’s busy, it is too easy to take that date for granted, miss a beyond-use date that is shorter on the vial, and let it leave with a year on the label. While a lot of times that might not cause harm, what if it’s an amoxicillin suspension? Is it really implausible, with the phones ringing, the drive-through, and vaccinations waiting, that you would forget to change the BUD?

We also had the MedAvail kiosk, so our labels had to have a date pre-printed on it. That put me in a tough position, but while playing around with solutions I settled on something perfect for those of you with automated dispensing kiosks: “Discard Date: 01/01/21_____________” Put the pre-printed date first, then leave space to cross it out and write it in.

Best Practice

  • If possible, get labels that are combined with the auxiliary labels and tablet description
  • Leave room to write in a discard date, and make it practice for every date to be written, not pre-filled by the computer.

The prescription trailer (or “back-tag”)

This particular picture doesn’t show it (because we updated it after to our final version), but an important thing here is to have the verifying pharmacist’s initials on the tag. Florida, as I’m sure many states, requires that the hardcopy prescription show the individual pharmacist responsible for the prescription; I don’t personally want to write it in on every one, and I doubt you do either. Let your computer do the work for you!

We have a few other things on there that aren’t really necessary (manufacturer, for example), but I hated to ask their label team to make more changes just to remove those. They don’t really bother anything. Other than that everything else is pretty standard! Name, Rx#, Rx info, etc.

Best Practice

  • In addition to the standard info, be sure the trailer can identify the pharmacist responsible for verifying the prescription.

The label for the perpetual inventory log

I’m still shocked and just how many pharmacies are still using C2 logs that require them to write everything in. Not only is it easy to fix that with the majority of labels on the market, it helps to reduce errors and saves time. In this picture, the sticker for the log is the middle one on the bottom, below the auxiliary labels.

With perpetual inventory, having both the quantity dispensed and the quantity remaining will not only save you time hand-writing everything in, but it can help you quickly catch calculation and other errors that would get your logbook off from the computerized inventory.

Best Practice

  • Use stickers for your log that include at least the Rx#, quantity dispensed, and quantity remaining.

The cash register receipt

A few things with the cash register receipt. Perhaps most importantly, you need two patient identifiers. Both should be confirmed with the patient prior to selling the medication. For those of you with QS1’s POS system, just so you know you can adjust settings to require the DOB to be typed into the register before the medication can be sold.

Again, this wasn’t our final final label so DOB was quickly added after this draft.

The medication name and strength will allow staff to also confirm the medications being sold, which is by far the safest practice.

Another great practice not shown on this label is to add ‘Refrigerated’ to all refrigerated meds. It will help prevent meds from being left out (especially CombiPatch, NuvaRing, and others that often get forgotten). That is easy to set up and is usually done in the Drug Record.

One thing we actually don’t have on this particular picture is the patient’s phone number. I realized that a few times after telling the patient at the register I would call them back and then not being able to confirm their number. It’s amazing how easy it is to overlook something on a label you see everyday.

Special Instructions

On the bottom left we have a section we carved out for all those special scenarios – RTS, partial fill, etc. Many pharmacies have a separate card or piece of paper, but with the right design you can incorporate it into your label and eliminate a form. Now that’s an easy win!

Best Practice

  • Forget the extra card – incorporate your special instructions into your label.

The leaflet

For the leaflet, a common mistake is to put the patient’s name and other personal information at the top. Not only is that completely unnecessary (a Lasix leaflet is a Lasix leaflet, and there’s nothing specific about it), but in the case a leaflet ends up in the wrong bag, you would have just disclosed PHI. When that happens you have to document it, report it, and also contact the other patient.

I’ve made that phone call a few times in my career; trust me, it’s not fun.

Notice how in this picture there is no PHI on the leaflet. Guess what happens now if a patient gets the wrong one? We would apologize, print the right information, and go on our merry way. I’m not saying it’s good that it happened, and it’s still best to look into the causes behind it, but you’ve significantly mitigated the potential harm done from the error by removing PHI.

Thankfully, like I mentioned earlier, because the leaflet and the label are attached and only separated as the medicine is being filled, the possibility of the wrong leaflet ending up in a patient’s bag is now fairly remote.

Best Practice

  • Combine label and leaflet to keep the wrong leaflets out of a patient’s bag
  • Remove all PHI from the leaflet to mitigate harm done in the case of an error

The other labels

There are two here I didn’t talk about – the bottom left and bottom right labels. Even after all of these changes and tweaking for maximum benefit, we still have two labels left over! Neither of those are used right now. I think that’s a good thing, because if we add service lines it leaves us extra room.

Maybe if we hired our own courier they could use one as a manifest? If a patient is a good candidate for MTM, or another contracted service, we could use that to identify them? Who knows, but the point is we have options with those extra labels. For now, I just left whatever happened to be on them.

The bottom line

It’s not often pharmacies get a free, easy way to make their life easier. Taking a hard look at your labels, and how you can best use them, is one of those ways. So set aside some time, get feedback from your staff, and make it happen!

Healthcare Disclaimer: The information provided  on is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Our tools are designed to provide general conversion estimations and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or medication. Read More in our Terms of Use.

Share This Post

Recent Articles

Share On:

More To Explore

USP 795 Key Points: Compounding and Formulation records

The formulation record and compounding record is an easy-to-miss area of compliance, but with numerous cases of patient harm related to compounding it is

What to Know About CLIA Waivers and Point-of-Care-Testing

Note: This post is from 2020 and was originally on We are posting to provide you with as much information as possible on

What’s in the EPA Pharmacy Standards?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the disposal of solid and hazardous waste, and under RCRA pharmacies are considered hazardous waste generators.

Pharmacogenomics in the Community Pharmacy

It’s no secret that pharmacies are going to have to diversify their revenue streams and continue to expand on non-dispensing revenue in order to

An interview with Tyler Taylor, PharmD, of St. Louis Hills Pharmacy

St. Louis Hills Pharmacy has actually implemented compostable prescription vials in their store. In addition, they have an entire page of their website dedicated

Drug Supply Chain and Security Act Infographic

This infographic is a visual representation of the post Top Things to Know About the Drug Supply Chain and Security Act (DSCSA). Get your

Optimize Your Pharmacy Software System [18 Ways]

Making the most of your computer system is one of the easiest, no-cost ways you can improve your workflow, save time, and reduce the

Hazardous Drug Handling in the Community Pharmacy

One of the most commonly overlooked areas of community pharmacies I have either managed or worked in involves the handling and dispensing of hazardous

How Does the Inventory Adjustment Work? [With Examples]

If you’re confused about the adjustment made to your income statement after inventory, you’re not alone. Here, we’ll look at …

9 Tips for Managing Controlled Substances in the Pharmacy

It’s no secret controlled substances are one of the biggest subjects of any pharmacy inspection, so if your pharmacy doesn’t have a good handle

HIPAA and Drug Reps: What Info Can I Release?

I got an interesting email recently from a pharmacist who read an article I wrote in the past for Pharmacy Times about drug reps

Responding to a State Board of Pharmacy Complaint

This article is by Jeffrey Baird, esq., a healthcare attorney who practices with Brown and Fortunato, PC. I thought it gave a great overview

Best Practices: The Compliance Binder

The Compliance Binder is a pharmacy best practice that will really make your life easier. While not legally required, the compliance binder has everything

How to Manage a Drug Recall

Systems to quickly manage recalls are an important, but often overlooked, area of pharmacy operations. This was brought to the forefront of the public’s

Maximizing Your Pharmacy Switch

Your pharmacy switch routes the claim from your pharmacy to the insurance company. Here’s what you need to know.

6 Top Tips to Know about DSCSA (Drug Supply Chain Security Act)

Here’s what you need to know about DSCSA to stay compliant and avoid fines.

3 Most Frequently Asked Questions About the 340b Program

If you’re wondering where to get started with the 340b program, this is a great place to get started.

What is a Surety Bond?

What is a surety bond? Let’s look a little more closely at why you should get one for your pharmacy.

The Ultimate Guide to DMEPOS Accreditation for Pharmacies

Need to get DMEPOS Accreditation? Here’s a step-by-step guide.

How to Read an Income Statement

If you’re new to accounting and finance, the income statement can be confusing. Here’s what to look for.

Tips to get started with pharmacy sustainability

I’m sure you can guess from the title what this post is about. Today we’re going to talk about greening the community pharmacy. Why

5 Great Pharmacy Organization Ideas

If you’ve been putting off getting your pharmacy organized, there’s never been a better time to get started. Here are a list of ideas

Tracking Licenses and Certifications

This state law also requires all pharmacy technicians to ultimately obtain certification from NCCA-accredited organizations (i.e., PTCB or NHA) after a provisional grace period.

Infographic: USP 800 Visual Guide

This one guides you through a very brief overview of each chapter of USP 800.

The 7 BEST Shoes for Pharmacy Staff [2024]

Pharmacists spend a long time on their feet, and in such a demanding environment, a good pair of shoes becomes more than just an

The Pharmacy Equipment Marketplace

This week’s Quick Tip comes from Shawn Earl, PharmD. Dr. Earl is the founder of Pinnacle Pharmacy Group and specializes in pharmacy mergers and

Are you tracking exclusions?

This Quick Tip is a reminder for pharmacies that they need to be checking all their staff at hire and at least monthly to

The Correct Medical Refrigerator Temperature Range

According to the CDC Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit, the correct medical refrigerator temperature range is 36-46 Fahrenheit.
error: Content is protected !!