Barcode study to seek new ways to improve workflow

Focus is on barcodes in the ICU

Barcode technology provides hospitals with efficiencies and the potential benefits of improved medication safety, but there can be problems with the technology due to workflow issues.

A study that is just beginning has one of its fundamental goals to identify barriers and inhibitors to success and to formulate strategies for overcoming those workflow barriers, says Craig P. Frost, RPh, MBA, pharmacy manager at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, TX.

"So if we see perhaps some unnecessary time being spent on something or a step that is causing everyone problems, it may need to be eliminated," Frost explains.

This study will include observation of how nurses use the barcode technology and how their time and workflow change with its use, says Sujit Sansgiry, PhD, an associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Houston in Houston, TX.

Sansgiry and Frost are co investigators of a study that recently was funded by a 2008 medication safety team grant on optimizing bedside technology solutions by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Research and Education Foundation. The study is titled, "A randomized controlled study to identify workflow factors in implementing safe and effective bedside barcode technology in the intensive care unit."

The investigators hope to learn more about the different aspects of workflow in both direct patient care and indirect patient care and medication activities, Sansgiry says.

For instance, they'll study where nurses spend their time when they don't use barcode technology versus where they spend their time when they have access to this technology, he adds.

"We started down the barcode path in the hospital, unit by unit," Frost says. "So we have some patient care units we could study before barcode technology and after barcode technology, and we can start collecting data in the ICU."

The researchers expect that the amount of time nurses spend on medication administration activities before barcode technology is implemented is time that could be available for direct patient care after the technology is implemented, Sansgiry says.

"The reality is that barcode technology allows documentation, and it allows the pharmacist to see what is happening in the ICU setting, because as soon as it's scanned, the information is available to the pharmacy," Sansgiry says. "Once nurses give the medications then the information is immediately available to anyone who wants it."

So Sansgiry and Frost will study how nurses spend their time before and after barcode technology is implemented to see which type of activity changes, he adds.