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GS1 in Healthcare: Why Barcode Standards are Necessary

Posted by Zebra EMEA

February 2, 2016 at 7:13 AM


The increasing use of barcodes in the health sector over the past decade has had many noticeable and considerable benefits. From faster patient processing and consistent treatment to fewer human errors and a drop in the administration burden for staff. It has also opened the door to data analytical opportunities like never before – enabling hospitals to further refine their processes for better operational efficiency at reduced cost.

However, the embracing of barcode technology by the health sector has not entirely been without its shortcomings. The speed at which it has been adopted on such a wide scale has led to some snags which left unattended could continue to cause disruption and limit the success of this technology for years to come.

The case for barcode standards

As barcode technology began being implemented by companies with different touch points for the day-to-day running of hospitals – pharmaceuticals, equipment, patient management, administrative etc. – companies began developing their own systems of management. The growth of international trade and differing procedures of different countries or regions further compounded this issue.

For example, whilst being able to trace medicines and prevent counterfeiting is a necessary requirement for the industry that brings many benefits, it has led to situations where clinicians are being presented with multiple barcodes on the same box. Scanning the wrong one has led to confusion and error.

Situations such as this have occurred because the development and implementation of barcode systems is often carried out without an overall strategy. This has created environments where different scanners may be required for different codes and data is managed on separate IT systems that aren’t able to communicate with each other. Some hospitals even have different systems across separate departments. Such environments can lead to cases where an identification code for one item (e.g. a patient) could match that of something else entirely (e.g. another patient’s laboratory results).

In an environment where a mistake could literally be a matter of life and death, a simpler solution must be found.

GS1 in Healthcare: Introducing the barcode standard

The best solutions are often the simplest – introducing a single barcode standard that all hospitals, IT systems and suppliers adhere to will all but eliminate these issues in one go. As more and more hospitals adopt barcode technology on a wider scale, so the realisation that a barcode standard is needed grows.

Here at Zebra we understand the need for change and have been an advocate for the implementation of the GS1 barcode standard since its inception.

The benefits of a GS1 barcode standard

GS1 has the potential to deliver noticeable benefits from day one. Using just one type of barcode label will make it easier and more affordable to log data through scanners as just a single type of device and logging system will be required.

A simplified scanning process at the point-of-care will reduce mistakes and ensure all documentation is recorded accurately. It will also cut costs through reducing hospital stays, by avoiding medication errors and inappropriate clinical decisions based on patient records that are incomplete or include the wrong information.

What’s more, a single standard means all data collected can be housed on a single system. Proper analysis of this data can lead to far more visibility of the “bigger picture” of hospital management and patient treatment. Such data could open the door to better understanding of the development of seasonal viruses, how a pandemic may occur and how allergies are evolving. A single standard adopted by all hospitals enables this data to cover whole countries, not just single institutions and this extensive insight will enable public health organisations to anticipate needs for and secure medication supplies, and adapt communication to support public health policies.

To read more about the case for adopting the GS1 Barcode Standard, click here to download our eBook.


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Topics: Healthcare, Barcodes, EMEA