Bar Codes to Prevent Drug Errors

The Food and Drug Administration has just announced that within the next two years all drugs and biological products such as units of blood in hospitals must have identifying bar codes. Hospital patients will also wear identification bracelets with bar codes. The idea is that the use of bar codes will reduce the number of drug mistakes made in hospitals.

Comments: Fundamentally, this bar code system is a good idea but it is not without concerns. Most hospitals in the US do not have the equipment already in place to implement a bar code system. And the technology will involve not only scanning the product bar code but also the bar code on the patient's ID bracelet. All the additional information necessary to ensure that the right patient is receiving the right drug at the right dose and at the right time will have to be programmed accurately into the computer. If this information has not been entered correctly or if glitches in the software occur, there is considerable potential for mistakes.

Let's hope that these bar codes don't lull patients along with their health care givers into a false sense of security as regards their medications Judging by what happens with scanning at the supermarket, there is plenty of room for error.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

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