Bedside barcodes reduce pharm errors

Barcoded wristbands can greatly reduce the opportunity for patient identification errors, says David Grant, RPh, MBA, vice president of pharmacy and clinical process improvement at Summit Health in Chambersburg, PA.

The barcoded wrist band is placed on the patient at admission and then is used for all specimen collection and medication administration, Grant says. Summit Health first began using the barcode technology about six years ago, when about 15% of U.S. hospitals were using it, he says. Now that figure is closer to 35%, he says.

Summit's barcode system is used in the pharmacy when the medication is dispensed and also at the bedside before it is administered.

"The nurse uses a handheld scanner to read the barcode, and if they have the right patient, they are allowed to proceed with administering the medication," he says. "If they don't have the correct patient, it closes the medication administration record and notifies them that they don't have the right patient."

As a result of the barcode technology, "wrong patient administration errors have all but disappeared," Grant says. That success eliminates about 30% of all medication errors, he says, because administration errors make up about 15%, dispensing errors account for another 15%, and transcription errors result in about half of all medication errors.

Staff members have responded well to the new system, with more experienced nurses saying they would never want to go back to paper medication orders, Grant says. Summit spent about $1 million on the hardware and other infrastructure necessary for the barcode system. Planning took about two years, and the new system was rolled out over eight months.

"It's been a resounding success for us and we wouldn't go back," he says.


• David Grant, RPh, MBA, Vice President of Pharmacy and Clinical Process Improvement, Summit Health, Chambersburg, PA. Telephone: (717) 267-7998. E-mail: