Bar-Code Technology Reduces Medication Errors in Hospitals

Substantial reductions seen in both transcription and administration errors
By Lindsey Marcellin
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- Use of bar-code verification technology can substantially decrease both transcription errors and medication administration errors in hospitals, according to research published in the May 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Eric G. Poon, M.D., of Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues conducted a quasi-experimental study of hospital errors in medication order transcription and administration both before and after a bar-code electronic medication-administration system (bar-code eMAR) was established in an academic medical center. Medication administration errors observed were classified as timing errors if medications were administered early or late, and as non-timing errors otherwise.

On units not using the bar-code eMAR, the researchers found a non-timing medication administration error rate of 11.5 percent compared with an error rate of 6.8 percent on units using the system. Potential adverse events not related to timing errors were halved, from 3.1 to 1.6 percent with bar-code eMAR. Timing errors in medication administration decreased by 27.3 percent with the use of bar-code eMAR; adverse events associated with timing errors did not significantly change. Errors in transcription of medication orders occurred at a 6.1 percent rate on units without bar-code eMAR but decreased to zero on units with bar-code eMAR.

"Taken together, our findings show that the bar-code eMAR technology improves medication safety by reducing administration and transcription errors, providing support for the inclusion of this technology as a 2013 criterion for achieving meaningful use under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Given challenges in implementing this technology, however, further research should focus on identifying factors that will lead to its optimal implementation," the authors write.

One of the authors is on the board of directors of IntelliDot, which makes bar-coding systems for hospitals, and consults for Cardinal Health, which makes IV drug administration systems.

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