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Bar Codes Shown to Prevent Medication Errors

A study published back in November 2010  in the Oncology Pharmacist proves what we at Winco ID have know all along – bar codes are an effective method of providing accurate data and can reduce medication errors in a health care facility.

Medication errors are common, according to this report, and occur in different ways. Most often, errors happen during physician ordering and nurse administration. Other errors happen during transcription and pharmacy dispensing. These types of errors are called adverse drug events (ADEs), and bar coding is an effective strategy to prevent them.

Computerized physician order entry (CPOE) has been in place for some time now, and has helped to decrease serious physician ordering medication errors.  Bar code technology has been shown to prevent errors in dispensing drugs from the pharmacy. At the bedside, bar code technology is used to verify a patient’s identity and the medication to be administered and is a highly effective strategy for preventing medication errors. Fortunately, bar code use in hospital settings has been increasing. The US Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, pioneered the way by instituting a national bar coding program in 1999 in its hospital system.

Bar code medication verification at the bedside is usually implemented in conjunction with an electronic medication administration record (eMAR). This combination of technologies allows nurses to automatically document the administration of drugs by scanning their bar codes to ensure the correct medication is administered in the correct dose at the correct time to the correct patient. Because the eMAR imports drug orders electronically from the physician’s order entry or the pharmacy system, its implementation may reduce transcription errors.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital compared 6,723 medication administrations on hospital units before bar coding and eMAR technologies were introduced to 7,318 medication administrations after bar coding and eMAR was used. When bar coding was in place, errors associated with the timing of medications (ex., giving a medicine at the wrong time) and non-timing errors (ex., giving a patient the wrong dose) decreased significantly. In fact,  researchers saw a 41 percent reduction in non-timing administration errors and a 51 percent reduction in potential drug-related adverse events associated with this type of error.
Errors in the timing of medication administration, meaning a patient was given medication an hour or more off schedule, fell by 27 percent.

This study shows how bar coding can aid in improving patient safety during medication administration and order transcription, and supports inclusion of bar coding and eMAR technology as a 2013 criterion for meaningful use of health information technology under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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