Visual differentiation and recognition memory of look-alike drug names: effects of disfluent format, text enhancement, and exposure time

Kaifeng LIU, Calvin K. L. OR, Simon Y. W. LI

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)


Three computer-based experiments were conducted to examine whether disfluent format, enhanced text, and increased exposure time improve the accuracy of visual differentiation and recognition memory of look-alike drug names. A three-way, repeated-measures look-alike drug name differentiation test assessed the visual differentiation accuracy of 30 nursing students (Experiment 1) and 15 nurses (Experiment 2). A two-way, repeated-measures recognition memory test examined the recognition memory accuracy of 15 nurses for look-alike drug names (Experiment 3). We found that making drug names disfluent did not significantly improve differentiation (Experiment 2) or memory accuracy (Experiment 3), but even impaired differentiation accuracy (Experiment 1). Enhanced text and longer exposure time significantly improved differentiation accuracy (Experiments 1 and 2). However, the enhanced text did not improve recognition memory (Experiment 3). We suggest that making look-alike drug names disfluent is not favourable. Enhanced text and longer exposure times are effective in supporting visual differentiation of look-alike drug names. Practitioner Summary: Confusion arising from look-alike drug names may compromise patient safety. Three experiments examined the effects of disfluent format, text enhancement and increased exposure time on visual and memory performances. Making drug names more difficult to read did not improve performance. Enhancing text design and increasing exposure (i.e. reading) time improved visual differentiation between medications, but did not improve the recognition of medications from memory. Abbreviations: SEEV: Salience-effort-expectancy-value; FDA: Food and Drug Administration; ANOVA: analysis of variance; SD: standard deviation, DF: disfluent format; TE: text enhancement; ET: exposure time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1289-1300
Number of pages12
Issue number10
Early online date9 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019



  • look-like drug names
  • disfluent format
  • text enhancement
  • exposure time
  • drug safety
  • Look-alike drug names

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