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Barcoding in our hospitals: because we’re only human

Posted by Zebra EMEA

December 10, 2013 at 6:50 AM


If there’s anyone we put our ultimate trust in, it’s our doctors.

And rightly so –your GP knows all about you: your age, your blood type, your allergies, your medical history and the medication that you take. Your records are safely stored in a database, which could be accessed by other medical professionals in an emergency situation.

But what if the unthinkable happened and you were given the wrong dosage of your medication? Or you’re given the wrong medication altogether? What if nobody acknowledged an allergy you have, or if you were treated for the wrong illness? What if the system failed?

In an industry where patient safety is essential, the safety of our data is too.

With our population constantly growing, keeping track of patients’ needs is becoming increasingly complex. We are now not only putting trust in our doctors, but also computers, databases, file transfers and a huge number of different healthcare professionals.

Being misidentified can result in the start of a network of events that should never happen and these could be potentially life threatening. Worryingly in 2012, out of three million blood transfusions in England and Wales, there were nearly 250 incidents where the wrong blood was given.

It’s unsurprising that mistakes occur, as we’re all a lot less unique than we might like to think. The chances are that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people around the world share both your first name and surname – and according to the birthday paradox, if there are 23 people in one room, there is a 50% chance that at least two of them share a birthday. Increase that to 57 people, and the probability increases to 99%.

Medical misidentification needs to stop – now. But how can we achieve this?

One simple way is with barcoding. By providing patients with a barcoded wristband, their records can be easily checked against a database, and then verified by their clinician. This barcode can also link samples and test results to patients, and provide medical professionals with other vital information, at the touch of a button.

This intuitive process overcomes the problems of deciphering handwritten notes, to reduce errors and improve the care of patients. This in turn, saves valuable time, and money, through driving efficiencies. It also places a lockdown on counterfeit drugs, ensuring that all medication is authentic and only given to those who really need it.

Studies have shown that barcode technology can stop administrative errors by 42 per cent, and although some worry that wearing a barcode would make them feel more like a product than a person, there are plenty of ways to combat this.

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of The Patients Association, advises: “Healthcare professionals using these barcoded wristbands should make sure that they make every effort to talk to the patient and treat them with the respect that all people deserve.”

A barcode system would give clinicians the opportunity to shift the time spent on administrative tasks to time spent engaging with patients, in turn further enhancing the quality of their care.

The prospect of barcoding in healthcare has been welcomed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Department of Health (DoH) and the NHS in both England and Wales. Why not support it too – for the good of our patients and the good of our health. Because we’re only human.

For more information on barcoding and patient safety, click here.

Topics: Healthcare, Patient Safety, Wristbands, Identification, APAC, North America, Latin America, EMEA