Barcodes have become a universal element on today’s goods and services, allowing quick data acquisition and management, as well as sophisticated tracking and recording. Thanks to their limitless capabilities and versatility, they can be deployed across numerous industries and offer measurable benefits.
It’s hardly a surprise then, that barcodes now play a critical role in one of the most precision-orientated industries: healthcare.
For the healthcare industry, simple inconsistencies or errors can lead to devastating consequences. Simple errors such as incorrect patient identification or attaching the wrong label to prescription drugs can impact patient safety and influence the bottom line – and this was the case for quite some time – until barcode implementation.
The use of printed barcodes enables the healthcare industry to accurately identify patients and store their details securely. By assigning printed barcodes in the form of wristbands to patients at the point of contact, patient data is literally ‘on hand’ and can be accessed quickly by the attending physician or nurse. In addition, barcodes can be utilised for prescription labelling and lab results, ensuring that the correct medication is prescribed to patients with the right dosages, and that lab samples cannot be mixed up due to human error.
Barcoding can also help prevent the use of counterfeits, by making it easier to identify authentic medicinal products as they are logged and tracked within the system using an ID unique to the institution in question.
However, while the implementation of barcode technology within the healthcare industry has significantly reduced the complications of both patient and drug identification, different institutions and companies adopted varying operational procedures. With multiple touch-points or points of contact, no single barcoding process was the same and, as a result, many pharmaceutical products ended up with various barcodes on them. Or worse still, barcodes with similar appearance and different information entirely.
This represents a serious problem with barcode technology. While its versatility has enabled quick deployment across many markets, the lack of barcode standardisation has meant many industries have adopted the technology without establishing an overall strategy for its deployment.
In order for the healthcare industry (indeed, any industry) to construct and maintain an efficient barcode hierarchy, it needs to adopt a singular approach to barcode standardisation, so that goods are always correctly processed and distributed.
But just as industries need to embrace a diligent, accurate barcode process, they also need the right technology to enable them to track and identify more efficiently, so that they can reduce errors at every part of the supply-chain process. It’s pointless having sophisticated forms of labelling without the tools to identify the label.
For the healthcare industry to capitalise on the capabilities of barcode technology, organisations firstly need to integrate sophisticated barcode printing solutions that can be easily accessed by care professionals at the point of contact. In terms of a standard process, the first element required is desktop printers at the point of contact or use - compact printers for printing patient ID wristbands, prescription labels and lab and specimen labels, and thermal printers for asset and blood/IV bag labelling. Both enable staff to print labels relatively easily and securely, without having to return to a centralised printing system.
Then, having acquired detailed, accurate and most importantly, unique labels, barcode scanning technology can be used at every stage of the process to verify patient IDs, and record the information within a database.
Thirdly, a mobile computer solution that communicates with the barcode scanning technology allows nurses to easily capture patient data and check a patient’s ID and electronic health record.
Lastly, in order to facilitate the effective communication between all these tools, a high-speed, wireless network capable of managing all the information from each individual device enables all devices to act independently, regardless of location, ensuring continuous information access from the centralised database.
In essence, the need for a standardised barcode system cannot be understated, but once a barcode process has been formulated, an organisation requires the right tools to actually make it work. Considering the efficiency, accessibility and constant connectivity now available, there is no reason for any healthcare organisation to operate without today’s mature barcoding and printing technologies.