Aimed at improving the safety of hospitalized patients by reducing medication errors, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires manufacturers to include bar codes on the labels of most prescription drugs, some over-the-counter drugs, and biological products. The familiar patterns of bar codes-horizontal bars and spaces-will indicate the drug's National Drug Code (NDC) number, uniquely identifying it, and may include lot number and expiration date. This ruling will be implemented over the next 2 years, although new drugs will be expected to comply within 60 days of being approved by the FDA.
For blood and blood components intended for transfusion, the FDA requires machine-readable information that includes, at a minimum, the facility identifier, the lot number relating to the donor, the product code, and the donor's ABO and Rh.
At this point, the FDA doesn't require health care facilities to use bar-coding systems. However, if you take an assignment at a facility that has one, you'll need to know how it works.
[black right pointing small triangle] When a patient is admitted to the hospital, he's given a bar-coded identification bracelet that links him to his electronic health care record (EHR).
[black right pointing small triangle] Before administering a drug to the patient, you'll scan the bar code on the patient's ID bracelet, and the computer will pull up his EHR.
[black right pointing small triangle] You'll then scan the bar code on the drug(s) that the hospital pharmacy has provided for the patient. This scan informs the computer which drug is being administered.
[black right pointing small triangle] The computer compares the patient's EHR to the drug(s) being administered to ensure that they match. If there's a problem, the computer sends an error message, and you'll investigate the problem, which could be one of many things: wrong patient, wrong dose of drug, wrong drug, wrong time to administer the drug, outdated medication (in case the patient's chart indicates a change in prescription).
The bar-code system lets the computer record the time that you give the patient his medication, ensuring more accurate medical records.