Searching the emc website

Last updated: Sunday, February 19, 2023

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to:
  • Describe the role of the electronic medicines compendium (emc) and be able to search for Summaries of Product Characteristics (SmPCs) and Patient Information Leaflets (PILs) efficiently. 
  • Use the emc website to search for products without selected excipients (e.g. lactose-free analgesics).

What is the emc? 

The emc contains SmPCs, PILs and Risk Minimisation Materials for medicines licensed in the UK. About 250 pharmaceutical companies pay for their SmPCs and PILs to be published on the website which is free to search. SmPCs and PILs can also be found on the MHRA website.  

How to search the emc 

To search for an individual SmPC or PIL, start to type the name of the medicine into the search box on the home page and a drop down list will appear. 

Select the drug you are interested in and press the green ‘magnifying glass’ button or the return key on your keyboard. This produces a list of relevant SmPCs and PILs. Scroll down to find the product of interest and click on the document title to see the SmPC or PIL. 

In some cases the information you’ll be looking for will be unique to a particular brand or formulation of medicine such as the excipient content; in these situations you’ll need to ensure you select the right product that you’re interested in. In other cases, this is less crucial such as whether a particular side effect has been reported with a medicine as this is usually not brand-specific. You can choose to order the SmPCs or PILs with the most recently updated first, using the 'sort by' menu on the right.

SmPCs and PILs follow a standard format and include essential information about the medicine including the licensed indication(s), dose, contraindications, side effects and drug interactions. However their content may vary for a given medicine; some may mention interactions that others do not include, and special precautions may differ. 

The date the document was last updated on the emc is displayed as shown below. This is important to note as there may be some lag time between new guidance being published (such as that from the MHRA) and the SmPC or PIL being updated. 

Some information may appear in more than one section of the SmPC or PIL; for example information about drug interactions can appear in the Contraindications section (4.3) as well as the Special Precautions section (4.4) and the Drug Interactions section (4.5). 

Using the ‘Advanced search’ function 

To search across more than one SmPC or PIL then you will need to use the 'Advanced search' function. Starting at the home page click on the Advanced search link as shown. 

There are then 2 options; searching using a word or phrase or searching by specific SmPC section. In practice, searching by SmPC section is most commonly required and can be helpful to source products without specific excipients, for example.

As an example, let's say you are trying to find a brand of ibuprofen that does not contain lactose.

Look at the Search options on the menu bar. Click on search By SmPC section

Then when asked to select a section, choose "2 Qualitative and quantitative composition". This section identifies the main active ingredients in a medicine.

Type ibuprofen into the Search query box, leave the 'contains/does not contain' choice as 'contains' then click the Add another search rule button.

Repeat the above steps but this time:

  • Choose "6.1. List of excipients" from the drop-down select a section box.
  • Change contains/does not contain to "does not contain".
  • Type lactose into the Search query box.
  • Click the green Search button at the bottom of the page.

So you have asked emc to look for medicines containing ibuprofen as an active ingredient, but not containing lactose as an excipient. You'll get a list of options to consider:

You can repeat this search process in other ways. For example, you might want to search by indication using "4.1 Therapeutic indication" to find a medicine to treat anxiety that does not contain a specific excipient. 

Note that occasionally a medicine may contain a substance that is present in ‘trace’ amounts, and this may not be declared in an SmPC or PIL in Section 6.1. If it is crucial to be sure about the presence of such a substance in a medicine, then you may need to ring the manufacturers.