Hospital Bar Codes

By: Sahar El-Hodiri
By: Sahar El-Hodiri

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A new way to cut down on the tens of thousands of medical errors is using a familiar approach.

The FDA proposes bar codes on all medication for patients in hospitals. It's similar to what grocery stores use.

Grocery stores scan bar codes on products they sell. The FDA proposal is based on the same concept. But hospitals will use a computerized database to make sure you get the right dose of the right drug.

It already reduces medication error at our nation's VA Hospitals. The bar code system is in place at all of them, including here in Wichita.

Nurse Karen Lutz says, "Just like they do at the grocery store they have a barcode there and a number."

Before she gives Albert Jones his medicine, VA nurse Karen Lutz scans the bar code on his I.D. bracelet and the one on the medication. A computer checks his record to make sure he's getting the right dose of the right drug, and that it's administered the right way at the right time.

Ron Parker at the VA Hospital says, "If any one of those variables are wrong the system will stop you that makes it very safe. It catches the little error potentials as well as the big error potentials."

A training system is getting Wesley Medical Center ready for the real thing.

Deb McArthur at Wesley Medical Center says, "We were missing that last piece between the nurse and the patient and that's the piece this is going to give us is that safety check."

Via Chrisit Regional Medical Center is getting ready as well. First the focus is to order medications correctly.

Diana Hilburn at Via Christi Regional Med. Ctr. says, "If there's potential errors they occur on both the point when you make the order as well as the point when you administer."

At VAs, bar codes have decreased medication errors by 71% to 86%.

The Institute of Medicine says medical errors kill 48,000-98,000 patients every year. The FDA is expected to make a final ruling on the bar code proposal this month. Wesley's system should be in place in October, Via Christi's in the next 12 to 18 months.


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