Poorly designed labels and packaging are key contributors to medication errors. To identify attributes of labels and dosing tools that could be improved, we examined the extent to which dosing error rates are affected by tool characteristics (ie, type, marking complexity) and discordance between units of measurement on labels and dosing tools; along with differences by health literacy and language.


Randomized controlled experiment in 3 urban pediatric clinics. English- or Spanish-speaking parents (n = 2110) of children ≤8 years old were randomly assigned to 1 of 5 study arms and given labels and dosing tools that varied in unit pairings. Each parent measured 9 doses of medication (3 amounts [2.5, 5, and 7.5 mL] and 3 tools [1 cup, 2 syringes (0.2- and 0.5-mL increments)]), in random order. Outcome assessed was dosing error (>20% deviation; large error defined as > 2 times the dose).


A total of 84.4% of parents made ≥1 dosing error (21.0% ≥1 large error). More errors were seen with cups than syringes (adjusted odds ratio = 4.6; 95% confidence interval, 4.2–5.1) across health literacy and language groups (P < .001 for interactions), especially for smaller doses. No differences in error rates were seen between the 2 syringe types. Use of a teaspoon-only label (with a milliliter and teaspoon tool) was associated with more errors than when milliliter-only labels and tools were used (adjusted odds ratio = 1.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.01–1.4).


Recommending oral syringes over cups, particularly for smaller doses, should be part of a comprehensive pediatric labeling and dosing strategy to reduce medication errors.

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