Patient Wristband Barcodes – Fail

don't barcode patient wristbands this way My wife recently had the misfortune to have to spend a couple of days in the hospital which gave me an opportunity to see how they use the barcodes printed on the patient wristbands.

As is the case in many admissions departments, the wristbands are on a sheet and are printed on a laser printer. As well as her name and some other info, a Code39 barcode is printed on the wristband.

As we went from ER to the main hospital and to various departments within, it seemed the barcode wasn’t used at all. The MRI guy as an example, checked the printing on the wristband against his work order sheet to see if this was indeed the correct patient – no barcode scanner to be seen.

Things got more interesting, when the lab guy arrived in the room to take a blood sample. This guy had all the gear, Symbol MC70 Mobile Computer, Zebra QL320 printer!

Problems started when he tried to scan the barcode on the wristband. As you can see in my photo, the barcode is quite long and is printed so that it isn’t all in view. After several failed attempts, the tech guy peeled the parts of the wristband apart, removed it and laid flat on the table to scan the code. He then replaced it on my wife’s wrist, announcing that the MC70’s were not very good (not his actual words!) and he had this problem with just about every patient.

To be fair, the MC70 isn’t the cause of the problem. The issue is that the software that creates the wristband is printing them in such a way that actually scanning the barcode is just about impossible.

If the hospital really wants to use barcodes to help with patient safety (I assume they do!) they should switch to a 2D barcode that would scan happily just about all the time – heck, the MC70’s that are being used already have 2D imager scanner so no new equipment is needed.

It also seemed odd to be using patient wristbands that can be peeled off and then replaced.

What’s your experience of the patient safety systems being used in your local hospitals? When Kathy from our Winco team recently had a hospital stay, she found that her hospital did it correctly – check out Patient Wristband Barcodes – Pass to learn more.

Read our article on Wristband Formatting and Patient Care if you want to learn more.

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