Earlier this year, the US Department of Health and Human Services said that pharmaceutical companies should bar code all drugs dispensed in hospitals, with the aim of reducing errors. It estimated at the time that the annual benefit from preventing adverse events due to medication errors is equivalent to $3.9 billion (€3.2bn).
The ruling looks set to be something of a bonanza for companies involved in the production of bar code labels and readers, as the total cost of the implementation programme is estimated at £7.2 billion.
The latest AmerisourceBergen Index, which was published yesterday, found that 39 per cent of respondents selected bar code scanning systems over computerised physician order entry (CPOE) systems that allow physicians to enter prescriptions via handheld computers.
CPOE scored fairly well, however, as it was selected by 25 per cent of those surveyed. Greater use of automated technologies to count pills and check prescriptions before they are dispensed came in next at 15 per cent, while 13 per cent of those surveyed said all three of these methods were the best way to reduce medication errors.
The new bar code regulations put forward by the FDA mandate the use of the National Drug Code, which identifies the type of medication and the dose and go into effect three years after publication of the final rule. The agency expects the rules to eliminate 413,000 medication errors during the next 20 years.
Some evidence for this optimism comes from a University of Wisconsin project which deployed a medication management system, Admin-Rx from McKesson, in December 2001. That system incorporates bar codes and has already cut medication errors by 87 per cent, according to ComputerWeekly.com.
In another question, nearly three-quarters of respondents said that the US government should require hospitals to adopt new technologies if they have been proven to reduce medication errors.
These technologies also scored highly in a question about what would have the most impact on patient safety in hospitals. Technologies that reduce the potential for human error by verifying and checking medications almost tied with the top choice - hiring more doctors and nurses. The other two options for impacting patient safety - higher salaries for healthcare workers and increasing government regulation - lagged far behind.