Behind-the-Scenes Barcodes Benefit Patients, Doctors, Hospitals

Barcode hardware and software play a larger, more important role in healthcare than you might think.

 You don’t think about barcodes when you go to your doctor to get a cough diagnosed or to a hospital to have your gall bladder removed.

But think for a minute about what hospitals and medical clinics would be like without barcodes. Everyone would be affected in one way or another:

  • Patients would be at greater risk of getting the wrong medication or having an incorrect procedure performed. Over 40,000 deaths are reported annually due to medical errors.
  • Medical professionals might find themselves without the necessary equipment and machines; which could lead to surgical delays and malpractice lawsuits.
  • Administrative staff, charged with keeping the doors open and the daily workflow running smoothly, could bear the brunt of the fallout from all of these costly errors.

Barcodes Ubiquitous in Medicine

Barcodes play a significant role in almost everything a doctor or patient touches in the course of a day, from the location of medications and critical diagnostic machines to patient charts and wristbands. In some cases, barcodes aren’t just a good idea; they’re required. For example, in 2004, and updated in 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a rule mandating the placement of barcodes on most prescription drugs and some over-the-counter medications.  Barcodes are also used to safeguard the nation’s blood supply. If you’ve ever given a pint of blood, you’re well aware of the time it takes to securely identify your donation – and of the scanner in the technician’s hand.

According to a study conducted in 2010, barcode usage prevented about 90,000 serious medical errors each year and reduced mortality rate by 20%.

A Slow, Careful Transition

Medical clinics and hospitals have been slowly computerizing their records and operations for some time now. This process might go faster; but for two things. First, moving records onto computers can compromise patient privacy if it’s not done in the most secure way possible. And second, healthcare organizations are dealing– with life and death situations, not with ballpoint pens and reams of printer paper.

If you’ve visited a doctor in the last few years, you may have seen him or her walking into the examination room with a tablet or laptop computer instead of a paper chart. That’s one of the more obvious signs of the major transitions the medical field is undergoing.

Less obvious is barcode technology, but it’s there. When you check into a hospital these days, chances are good that the wristband the admitting person puts on your wrist has a barcode on it. Wasp Barcode Technology is one of the companies that sells a small printer dedicated to that purpose.

The Right Medications and Specimens

Medication administration in a hospital setting might seem simple to us laypeople.  Barcodes have become a large part of medical life because patients were getting the wrong drugs too often due to wrong patient data, mixing up drug names, etc. This prompted medical professionals to draft something called, “The Five Rights” (right patient, right drug, right time, right dose, right route).

Another area where correct identification can be a life-and-death matter is lab tests. Specimens must be labeled with absolute precision to avoid inaccurate diagnoses, administration of the wrong medication, test duplication, etc.

“There are an average of 414 annual transfusion errors in the U.S., or about one to 38,000 transfusions, compared with 1.25 million adverse drug events annually, according to the FDA. The maturity of barcode identification in blood collection, processing, and distribution may explain the tremendous disparity in the amount of blood administration errors compared to medication administration errors.”

Sometimes in medical settings, you need to print numerous pieces of information on a small surface (think about patient wristbands).  Small, affordable barcode printers that are compatible with Microsoft Office, like Wasp’s, can be used to help stop these preventable health hazards. Wasp even produces a barcode scanner designed with health care applications in mind; it comes with built-in antimicrobial protection, reads barcodes up to 20 inches away and transmits the data it collects wirelessly.

Managing Physical Assets

You could say a hospital or clinic’s most important asset is its professional staff, but those individuals expect that needed equipment and other supplies will be there when they need it – every time. So IT managers and administrative staff should follow industry best practices where physical assets are concerned, including:

  • Start with an accurate baseline
  • Eliminate property that is nonfunctional for some reason, but should still be considered an asset
  • Tag all assets, using the appropriate label stock
  • Implement asset tracking hardware and software that matches needs
  • Support mobile use of equipment, and
  • Regularly monitor and track assets (Wasp has an inventory control solution that is now compatible with Intuit’s QuickBooks®)

Invisible Support

In the medical world, it’s often what you can’t see that can hurt you. Germs. Tiny deer ticks that cause Lyme Disease. The sun’s potentially cancer-causing rays.

Clearly, what you can’t always see can help you, too. Barcodes – both seen and unseen – can help healthcare systems deliver services faster, more accurately, and, most important, more securely.

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Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter