Guest Column | August 13, 2008

Bar Codes In Healthcare

By Bert Moore, editor, AIM Global

A recent article that cited a report conducted by University of Pensylvania School of Medicine concluded that bar codes were not proven effective in improving patient safety. The actual report focused on "workarounds to barcodes medication administration system" and their effect on patient safety. There is a significant difference between the headline of the article and the focus of the study.

However, it's true(and has always been true)that bar codes alone won't improve patient safety. A well designed and implemented system using bar codes will. In fact the study (Published in the Journal of Medical informatics Associations)concluded that it was a failure of the design and management of the system, not bar code technology itself, that were the problem.

In a well-designed system medication is correctly identified before it is given to nursing staff for administration -- either at the central pharmacy or on the floor. Then, nursing staff must be able to scan the medication at the patient"s bedside the confirm the 5Rs of the medication administration: the right patient, right medication, right dosage ,right route(method of administration), and right time.

When nursing staff is not able to scan at bedside, the system is prone to errors. The University study looked at how nurses were often forced to employ non standard means to try to use a poorly implemented bar code system.