There is ample evidence that barcode technology for medication has had a significant impact on patient safety. But while most U.S. hospitals have adopted barcode medication administration, experts say there's big room for improvement.
According to a recent study conducted at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the use of the bar-code electronic medication administration significantly reduced the rate of errors in order transcription and in medication administration as well as potential adverse drug events.
The study, "Effect of Bar-Code Technology on the Safety of Medication Administration," concluded that while barcoding did not eliminate errors altogether, it remains "an important intervention to improve medication safety."
Mark Neuenschwander, president of the Neuenschwander Company and cofounder of the unSUMMIT for Bedside Barcoding, said that currently more than two-thirds of U.S. hospitals are scanning most patients and medications before administering them.
"And doing a fairly good job," said Neuenschwander. But he contends that there's room for improvement.
"Using technologies with best practices, getting the final third to adopt and getting all to expand their medication coverage," is essential, he said, adding that one noticeable gap is that most BCMA hospitals are not scanning medications in OR or ER.
Since 2012, barcoding has been required for hospitals under Stage 2 meaningful use's core measures.
Teamwork and leadership
The successful implementation of BCMA requires baseline knowledge of barcoding as well as teamwork and leadership, says Jeff Chalmers, assistant director, pharmacy informatics at the Cleveland Clinic.
Chalmers suggested that a good start would be for the barcode team to read the practice resources and guidelines provided by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists with regard to medication barcoding.
"Once you've armed yourself with that information, the creation of a strong multidisciplinary steering committee including pharmacy, nursing and physician leadership to sponsor the program and make key decisions with input from front line staff is an important first step."
From a pharmacy-centric perspective, Chalmers says one of the most important activities to embark on early in the project is to take an inventory of all products in the pharmacy to determine which products are barcoded and which are not.
"Subsequently, the development of operational procedures to get barcodes on all projects is also challenging and important," he said.
Chalmers asserted that the development of a system to screen all incoming products' barcodes to determine if the system can read National Drug Codes before they are dispensed to patients, would allow hospitals to have a sustainable system with as few erroneous alerts directed towards nurses as possible.
Chalmers, a member of the Pharmacy Informatics and Technology section and the Section Advisory Group for Clinical Decision Support and Clinical Information Systems at ASHP, added that it's important that the front line nursing staff also understands how the system works and what the expectations are for using it – as well as an efficient way to report problems they see with the system are all key for making the system work for the staff who relies on it the most, nurses.
Despite the fact that there is currently no solid data on adverse drug events, Chalmers said that it is possible to review, through reporting techniques, "near miss" events, where nurses were warned of a mismatch between the medication and the patient's orders and were able to avoid making a medication error.
"We have the capability to review these near misses and pass along this information to other nurses with regard to mistakes that may be easier to make due to look alike-sound alike medications, or medications with similar packaging," said Chalmers.