Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare

Phonetics & Phonology: articulation, acoustics, transcription, and sound
patterns of language.

Naming & Branding:
product and service naming
and global linguistic
analysis of names.

Natural Language Processing:
corpus analysis and grammar building for NLP systems.

Speech Recognition:
multi-language phonetics informing creation and enhancement of automatic
speech recognition technology.


Bringing linguistics experience to pharmaceutical names and the healthcare industry


Laura works on projects naming products in the healthcare field for such companies as Sanofi Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline. Products have included brand name prescription drugs, over the counter sleep aids, and dental care products.

Confusability Studies

Sound-alike drug names (Prepridil / Bepridil) cause millions of potentially dangerous prescription errors every year in the United States alone. Laura has served as the lead linguist on a set of large-scale studies over 5 years including hundreds of pharmacists, nurses, doctors and lay people. These studies were designed to pinpoint the precise areas where confusion is likely to happen in prescription errors where one name is mistaken for another.

The findings have been used to build software designed to vet new drug names for potential confusion with existing names ( This software has been adopted by HealthCanada for the approval process for all new drug names in Canada, and is under consideration for adoption by agencies in other countries.

Based on this experience, Laura conducts confusability studies for proposed new drug names. She vets new names for weaknesses, weeding out name candidates that are more likely to be involved in sound-alike prescription errors. Stronger name candidates can then be submitted to approval agencies.

Pronunciation Guide

For The National Drug Information Center, Laura created a pronunciation guide for all brand name medications available in the United States. The guide was designed to aid medical professionals in learning the accepted pronunciation of all drug names on the market.

Linguistic Analyses of Names

Laura analyzes new drug names to determine if they work in the intended language markets:

Disaster checks are designed to vet new names for how well they work in particular languages.

Is the name easy to pronounce?
Does the spelling work well in that language?
Are there any unintended connotations of the name?

Confusability checks are designed to vet new drug names for potential confusion with other drugs already on the market. Going through this process as part of naming a drug helps avoid problems in the process of approval by overseeing agencies, such as the FDA in the United States.

Electronic Medical Records

Laura uses linguistic principles to build software designed to extract clinical information from doctors' medical dictation. This software recognizes many types of clinically crucial information, from prescription details, to the patient's vital signs, to the time relevance of the information, to whether disorders mentioned in the medical chart have been ruled out, confirmed, or are still under consideration. The information, once extracted, can then be used to populate electronic medical records and can be used by any provider on any platform for quality and patient-care searches.

Healthcare-related Publications

2010 – Lambert, B. L., Dickey, L. W., Fisher, W. M., Gibbons, R. D., Lin, S.-J., Luce, P. A., McClennan, C. T., Senders, J. W., Yu, C. T. "Listen Carefully: The Risk of Error in Spoken Medication Orders." Social Science and Medicine.

2005 – B. Lambert, S. Lin, S. Toh, P. Luce, C. McClennan, R. Levigne, W. Fisher, L. Walsh Dickey, J. Senders. "Frequency and Neighborhood Effects on Auditory Perception of Drug Names in Noise." Papers from the 21st Meeting of the Institute of Noise Control Engineering.


Contact Laura Walsh Dickey:

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