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Patient Safety/Quality Assurance PTCB Test Prep
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What are Auxiliary Labels?

Aug 9th, 2022
pharmacy auxiliary labels

Medication and Patient Safety

The purpose of a prescription is to ensure that each patient receives the correct medicine, in the safest dose, to treat their condition. However, that’s not always enough. Patients must also know how to safely use, administer, or store their medicines. That’s where auxiliary labels come in.

An incorrectly used, administered, or stored medicine can severely impact the patient’s therapeutic outcomes. Medicines that are sensitive to sunlight, for example, can decay or deteriorate into more toxic compounds. At the very least, the medicine loses its therapeutic potential. “Auxiliary labels” can be used to prevent these kinds of outcome.

Patients must also know how to safely use their medicine.

Is the medicine to be applied externally – such as the skin – or is the drug to be administered via a specific route, such as the rectal or ocular route?

These questions matter.

Medicines are manufactured with these considerations in mind; and that’s why patient counseling is so important – both for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. It is imperative that healthcare professionals are equipped with the knowledge on how to assist patients on how best to use, administer, or store their medicine. This becomes even more pronounced in patients taking multiple medicines. Auxiliary labels are a supplementary form of counseling that assist and remind patients on how they need to administer or store their medicines.

For the PTCB exam, technicians must know:

  • The definition of a pharmacy auxiliary label
  • Examples of common auxiliary labels
  • Why auxiliary labels are used on dispensed medications

Let’s now take a few minutes to learn more about some of the most common auxiliary labels.

Auxiliary Labels on Dispensed Medicines

Definition: “auxiliary labels are cautionary labels added to a dispensed medicine to provide extra information to the patient on the safe administration, use, and storage of their medicines”.

In other words, auxiliary labels refer to important features of the medicine that patients must keep in mind.

Examples of common auxiliary labels include:

  • Do not chew or crush
  • Swallow whole
  • Take with food or milk
  • For rectal use only
  • Shake well before use
  • For external use only
  • May cause drowsiness
  • Protect from sunlight
  • Take on an empty stomach
  • Keep refrigerated
  • For the eye (or ear) only
  • May cause urine discoloration

You will have already noted the distinct warning and cautionary nature of these labels.

They do not refer to the dose the patient has been prescribed, nor do they tell the patient what medicines to take, or at what time to take their medicine. Instead, auxiliary labels are supplementary to a prescription label – providing extra information to the patient to ensure that the administration, use, and storage of that medicine is done in a way that minimizes any harm to both the patient and their medicines.

Pharmacy technicians must be familiar with all auxiliary labels – some of which you may already have come across. Others you may not yet recognize.

Bear in mind, though, that the above list of auxiliary labels is not intended to be exhaustive.

Auxiliary Labels and “Adherence”

For the PTCB test, you may be asked questions that ask you to identify an example of an auxiliary label from four possible answers.

From our study above, you should now be able to do this.

You should also be able to appreciate the bigger picture – of how common it is for patients not to take their medicines – what is referred to as adherence. The more that patients adhere to their prescribed medication, the greater adherence they display.

The greater the levels of adherence, the greater the clinical outcomes for each patient.

However, studies show that adherence levels are remarkably low – particularly in patients with long-term, chronic health conditions. One study, for instance, showed that as much as 50 percent of patients do not take their medicines as prescribed.

That’s why communication, and the relationship between patient and their healthcare team – particularly in the pharmacy setting – is so important.

Clear communication to the patient about the need to maintain or increase adherence and the need to abide by prescription instructions and auxiliary labels is paramount. This is one of the core duties of healthcare professionals, and it is always worth bearing this broader context in mind when we think about the value that auxiliary labels have the capacity to bring.

It also emphasizes the risks that come when patients are not adequately informed on how best to take, administer, or store their medicines.

Auxiliary labels remain a small, but important part of the overall goal to minimize medication errors and any possible risks, however small, to each patient.

Found this helpful? Master all aspects of the PTCB exam with our rapid revision course, teaching you all the facts you need to know, in ways you can remember.