medical label symbols

Deciphering Common Medical Device Labeling Symbols

If you work in any area of the medical industry, you likely have some familiarity with medical device labeling symbols. You’ve probably seen the images on everything from pill bottles to medical equipment.

But do you ever wonder why we use symbols in the medical industry? They almost seem like hieroglyphics or a coded message. Have you seen the medical device labeling symbols and asked yourself what they mean? We see them printed on medical labels in the lab, the pharmacy, or throughout any medical practice.

Fortunately, medical device labeling symbols are standardized, and you can decipher most with just a little sleuthing to find a medical device symbols glossary. These medical device labeling symbols are essential—they keep consumers, patients, and medical professionals efficient, informed, and safe from harm.

Why Medical Device Labeling Symbols Keep Us Safe

Medical device labeling symbols are simple images that convey a lot of critical information. Symbols on medical devices can indicate storage guidelines for an item. They can symbolize safety precautions needed or offer guidance on how a medical product should be administered or used.

For years, the medical industry has used symbols in labeling, largely because symbols are universal, but the medical device labeling standards have shifted and evolved over time. As manufacturers and technology have changed, the number of symbols has grown, and designers have adapted them to encompass the medical industry’s new needs.

Medical device users need not understand English or know how to read to understand the symbols. The understandability of medical device labeling symbols is particularly helpful for global markets. When manufacturers create a medical device or product, they can market it in any country, not just the native manufacturing region. Medical device symbols are essentially universal (although countries may have their own medical device labeling standards and guidelines).

Symbols Are Used Everywhere

Symbols have long been used in consumer goods—not only for medical devices but in many different products. The characters on a product label might tell the consumer about the contents inside or how they can recycle the container. There are symbols used in kosher food manufacturing and symbols to indicate the organic origins of food. Some symbols might tell consumers how to store products or warn them about misusing the products as well.

As with medical labels, the symbols used for all products are there because they convey a message in a clear, easy-to-follow manner. There are no concerns about language barriers or inability to read when pictures are used on a label. Labeling symbols make products more accessible and easier to use—something that’s particularly crucial when it comes to the medical field.

Symbols also take up less valuable label real estate. When you’re trying to convey a lot of information in a small amount of space, a symbol can help you get your message across quickly and clearly. Medical device labeling symbols are ubiquitous in the medical field because often, there are many instructions needed. A symbol is a convenient, straightforward way to get that information across to anyone who needs to know.

Medical Device Labeling Symbols Offer a Lot of Information in a Little Picture

So what can we learn by looking at medical device labeling symbols? There’s a lot of information conveyed, but some of the symbols can get confusing for those new to the medical profession or less familiar.

In 2016, the FDA released the final rule on the “Use of Symbols in Labeling.” These rules allow symbols on medical device labeling without accompanying explanatory text. These criteria helped those navigating label design and figuring out how to fit the necessary information on a medical device. You can use a standalone medical device labeling symbol as long as the symbol meets certain standards (like those set forth by the American National Standards Institute, ANSI, or International Organization for Standardization, ISO).

Manufacturers may also use a symbol that’s not part of the ISO standards if they can show that the symbol is easily decipherable to their target audience. The FDA rule also mandates that manufacturers include a symbols glossary (in paper or electronically) available to users as part of the labeling or packaging. However, the glossary isn’t needed if a company prints explanatory text along with the symbol.

There are many positives about the medical device labeling standards and guidelines. Using symbol-only labels makes the message clear, safe, and easy to comprehend. In a small amount of space, the safety labels can still get the message across.

One aspect of labeling that the medical device labeling ruling underscores is the critical need to choose the correct label for the job. When you’re relying on a small medical label to offer so much important information, it needs to have the right finish, lamination, and adhesive to stay in place and stick to the medical device. Even though the symbols and labels are standardized, it’s still essential to seek the highest quality labels with resistant coatings and finishes.

At T&L Graphics, we offer labels in an array of finishes and types, including chemical, cold, and heat-resistant options. We serve the medical field with labels such as:

  • Medical imaging
  • Pharmaceutical labels
  • Vial labels
  • I.V. labels
  • Biohazard labels for containers
  • Admission labels
  • Labels for radiology
  • Medical device and equipment labels

We can recommend the right adhesive and label material to ensure your labels can stand up to frequent use, wear, and tear. When you rely on labels for critical information, don’t settle for anything less than the top of the line. Reach out to us today to get the right labels for all your important applications.

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