The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare will set up a committee of experts and drug makers later this year to advise on the plan, which is expected to start in the summer of 2005, reports Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun.
Similar initiatives have been implemented in other countries, including the US where bar codes will have to be on drugs sold for use in hospitals from February of this year. At present just over a third of these medicines carry bar codes, so pharmaceutical suppliers must move quickly to bring themselves into conformity with the new regulations.
One concern in Japan and elsewhere is the cost, as introducing bar code scanners and coded ID bracelets, as well as a computer system for prescription management, could total Y5 million (€38,000) per hospital ward, MHLW officials estimated.
However, the US Food and Drug Administration maintains that the initial cost of implementing the system would be offset by a reduction in the number of dosing accidents. It estimates these would be cut by 413,000 over the next 20 years once bar codes are established, saving $41 billion (€33bn) in additional medical costs. And the benefits for patients are also significant; around 7,000 patients die each year from dosing errors in US hospitals.
Although the aim is to eventually develop a bar coding system for all medicines, the first products to use the system are expected to be blood, intravenous drip bags and injectables, as the risks associated with dosing blunders with these products tend to be high.
The Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations of Japan says it plans to introduce bar code labelling on injection solutions in 2005, because Japan's revised Pharmaceutical Affairs Law now states that sales records should be kept for blood and other products.