1. Fitzpatrick, Melissa A. RN, MSN, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief

Article Content

The health care industry relies heavily on technology. Advances often mean the difference between life and death for patients. But while most of our capital dollars finance clinical technologies for diagnostic precision and patient treatment, our field remains woefully lacking in technology that supports delivery system infrastructure. We allocate an embarrassingly small amount of our budgets to information technology that could enhance our ability to deploy and analyze data in ways that would lead us to best practices.


Recipe for disaster

The best example of our technology deficit exists in the medication administration arena. Considering the potential for harm, one would assume that the latest technological advances to ensure safety and accuracy would support this aspect of care. Wrong! In most health care delivery systems, medication administration is a manual process subject to human error. When you combine a lack of technological support with a nursing shortage and high patient acuity, you have a recipe for disaster.


A national survey conducted by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists revealed that 85% of patients are concerned about at least one medication-related issue when entering a hospital or health system. 1 In September, researchers reported that potentially harmful medication errors occur more than 40 times per day in a typical 300-bed hospital (about two errors per patient per day). 2 In the 36 participating hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, one in five medication doses given was in error, although only about 7% of the errors was judged to be potentially harmful.


Call to action

These findings necessitate a call to action to every health care leader responsible for allocating technology resources. We need a care standard that uses available technology to maximize medication administration safety. When will we admit that our current processes are fraught with error and demand change to minimize patient risk?


Available barcode enabled point-of-care (BPOC) systems can reduce error and enhance staff efficiency. Such systems help nurses verify that they're giving the right patient the right medication and dose via the right route of administration at the right time. BPOC technology automates administration documentation and reporting and provides alerts and warnings to avert potential errors.


So what are we waiting for? It's high time that we put money into technology infrastructure to enhance patient safety and support staff. Do we really need the proposed FDA ruling mandating manufacturer-applied barcodes to motivate us to act?



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1. National Survey by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. October, 2002. ASHP On-Line. Bethesda, Maryland. Available on-line: [Context Link]


2. Barker, K., Flynn, E., Pepper, G., et al.: "Medication Errors Observed in 36 Health Care Facilities," Archives of Internal Medicine. 162: 1897-1903, 2002. [Context Link]