Patient safety, care quality, and efficiency in the supply chain are likely to improve with new proposals from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will require bar coding on medications.
Part of a wide-ranging effort to improve patient safety, the proposed rule - 'Bar Code Label Requirements for Human Drug Products and Blood' - would demand 'bar codes' on all prescriptions, some over-the-counter drugs packaged for hospital use, and vaccines. The driving force behind the new regulations is an effort by the FDA to reduce medication errors. The FDA estimates that the bar code rule, once implemented, will result in a 50 per cent increase in the interception of medication errors at the "dispensing and administration" stages. This, it calculates, will result in 413,000 fewer adverse events over the next 20 years.
"These proposals are key steps in reducing medication problems through using state-of-the-art technology," said Secretary for the Department of Health & Human Services, Tommy G. Thompson.
"These actions are the start of a comprehensive strategy to build a medical patient protection system for the 21st Century," added FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan.
The requirement for bar codes adopts a technology that is widely used in other industries and, as part of the drug label, would contain the National Drug Code (NDC) number, and unique identifying information about the drug that is to be dispensed to the patient.
The proposed design would allow manufacturers to include additional information, and more information could also be added to the bar code standards as information technology progresses. When used with bar code scanners and computerised patient information systems, bar code technology could prevent medication errors including administering the wrong drug, administering a drug to a patient who is known to be allergic, administering the wrong dose, administering the drug at the wrong time, or using the wrong route of administration (for example, by injection rather than by mouth).
Premier, a US alliance of non-for-profit hospitals and health systems, this week voiced its support for the proposed rule. Chairman and CEO Richard Norling commented : "Hospitals recognise and take to heart the need to continuously improve the quality and safety of patient care. Through their implementation of bar code technology caregivers will be able to better ensure that the right medications are administered in the right way to the right patients in the right dosage, at the right time."