Despite the best efforts of medical professionals, mistakes inevitably occur within the healthcare sector. The World Health Organisation found that around 23% of European Union citizens claim to have been directly affected by medical error. Whilst many mistakes are easily rectified, the consequences for some unwitting patients can be serious harm or even death.
Not only is patient misidentification a major issue with regards to patient safety and well-being, there are also significant financial and legislative implications to consider. The annual cost of medication-related admissions to hospitals translates to about £359 million across the NHS.
The three most frequently occurring types of medication error are:
- Wrong dose
- Strength or frequency of medicine
- Omitted medicine and wrong medicine
It is estimated that around 5% of patient wristbands are incorrect, illegible or missing altogether. Research and practical experience has shown that barcoded wristbands are the most successful way to better manage patient identification. This improves efficiency, safety and reduces the risks of misidentification.
Anything that can normally be printed on a wristband can be encoded in a barcode. However, barcodes store data in less space than handwritten or typed text, meaning barcode wristbands can hold more information than conventional ones. Two-dimensional barcodes are capable of storing even more information, including a digital photograph of a patient that can be viewed whenever the barcode is scanned.
Using a barcode system, staff scan the wristband and are able to immediately identify their patient via a computer-linked scanner. Application software compares the medication to information in the patient’s electronic record, verifying the dosage, route and time. Medication is only administered after digital confirmation, with staff scanning their own barcoded ID badge to record who administered the medication.
Barcode scanning is extremely accurate, far exceeding the accuracy of manual recording. Studies have shown that skilled typists make an average of one error per every 300 keystrokes, whilst the error rate for barcode data entry is less than one per three million scans. Barcode data entry is also much faster than manual data entry, with the Carilion Health System reporting time savings of 2.75 hours per 12-hour nursing shift after switching systems.
Once wristbands are barcoded to allow accurate and efficient patient identification, electronic health records (EHRs) can be optimised further through the integration of tracking and data collection applications. Clinical appointments are often rescheduled because a patient’s notes can’t be located. This issue is addressed by centralising EHRs via barcoding, ensuring staff have immediate access to a patient’s notes or medicines.
Overall, barcoding and EHRs have greatly improved positive patient identification, reducing errors and increasing productivity. Accurately coded wristbands enable staff to give care in confidence, knowing that the patient is in the right place and receiving the correct treatment. This ensures that patients have a solid, accessible identification foundation that their health record can be built around and as these procedures are introduced across more healthcare organisations, patients will increasingly expect their caregiver to scan their wristband before giving them medicine or an injection.
However, there is still plenty of room for progress. Working to introduce a standardised system of barcoding is the next challenge. In order to achieve even greater accuracy and regulate medicines and devices more effectively, healthcare institutions need to adopt the same system across Europe.
To learn more about how barcoding and EHRs can improve positive patient identification, click here or on the link below: