Patient Safety with Barcode Technology

July 7, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team

Updated Version - July 17, 2023

Every day, doctors, nurses, administrators, and staff strive to improve patient safety and care in healthcare settings. Occasionally, even the most skilled and experienced practitioners make a mistake. Thanks to better technology, patient safety has improved dramatically over the past few decades. Barcodes are one of those technologies that have had an impact on patient safety. This technology also enhances operational efficiency and increases patient safety and identification.


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The importance of barcode technology in healthcare is growing with advances in scanning. While many people think of barcodes when they hear about retail, barcodes also benefit hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Learn how barcode technology impacts healthcare and its benefits for a healthcare organization.

What is Barcode Technology?

Barcode is a printed series of parallel bars or lines of varying widths and alphanumeric characters used for entering data into a computer system. The bars are typically black on a white background, and their width and quantity vary according to application.

Applications of Barcodes in Healthcare

  • Drug Identification and Medication Management

    Medication management is a challenging job that relies on the "five rights" - Right Patient, Right Medication, Right Dose, Right Time, and Right Route of Administration. Barcode medication verification at the bedside allows nurses to record medication administration automatically. A study found that barcode usage prevented about 90,000 medical errors each year and reduced the mortality rate by 20%. In another study, barcodes were found to reduce medication administration errors by 82%.

  • Surgical Instrument Identification

    Barcodes can be used to identify the instruments and inventories in kits for surgical procedures. Barcodes on instruments and surgical kits may be used to assure compliance with surgeons' preferences for what their kits contain. Using barcodes to track what is, and what isn't, used regularly may allow hospitals to optimize kit contents for each surgeon. This provides room to reduce costs since surgeons' preferences may change over time. Sterilized instruments can also be uniquely identified using barcodes on surgical instruments.

  • Patient Identification

    Barcode technology can help prevent medical errors by making accurate and reliable information readily available at the point of care. During the patient's stay, any other patient care activity can be tracked, like monitoring medications, infusions, specimen collection, and so forth. Electronic barcoding ensures correct patient identification throughout the testing process, including test ordering and reporting, specimen collection, and analysis. Wristbands with barcodes that contain the information of the patient's medical record or visit number and any other identifiers have been proven effective in providing proper patient care. In addition to wristbands, barcode scanners and printers are used to confirm patient identification.

  • Blood Transfusion and Laboratory Samples

    Diagnosis and treatment can involve handling biological components such as blood. Did you know that the FDA requires blood and blood substances for transfusion to have barcodes? Barcode technology allows for better accuracy and patient safety. That is why they created this regulation. In lab testing, barcodes help technicians track samples to ensure accurate results.

Benefits of Implementing Barcode Scanners in your Healthcare Facility

  • Accuracy

    When appropriately used, barcode technology can improve your recordkeeping accuracy. Dependable scanners and barcodes keep your data correct and easy to access. Barcode Medication Administration (BCMA) is an inventory control system that uses barcodes to prevent human errors in the distribution of prescription medications at hospitals. BCMA technology automates the process of verification by scanning the barcode on the medication and the patient identification wristband, thus assisting the nurses in confirming the 'five rights' of medication administration: right patient, right medication, right dose, right route, and the right time.

  • Efficiency

    With a single scan, a barcode reader can access patient or supply records. This technology saves time your staff would otherwise spend looking through documents to find what they need.

  • Inventory Control

    Inventory control is a complex process in the healthcare industry to deal with, as it consumes a lot of time. Barcodes have helped the industry in managing its inventory regardless of where they are located. As a result, the right materials and equipment are available whenever and wherever they are needed. Barcode scanning of products speeds up the re-order process as well. The system is enabled to automatically re-order products when they reach a specific inventory level (surgical utensils, medicines, equipment, etc.).

  • Patient Privacy

    Barcode technology can have privacy protections built-in to protect patient information. With the right software, you can stay HIPAA-compliant and defend your organization's data.

Future of Barcoding in Healthcare

Given barcoding's history as a mature reliable technology, barcoding will continue to be adopted in healthcare settings to improve the quality of patient care. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is expected to be a future competitor for barcoding. Nevertheless, barcoding will continue to play a prominent role and will likely collaborate with RFID to form a hybrid system. In this regard, barcoding (1-D and 2-D) will continue to have advantages over RFID for the following two reasons:

  • Barcoding is cheaper than RFID.
  • Barcode technology is ideally suited for tasks in which a human being is stationary and objects are moving (e.g. blood sample collection and labeling).

Barcoding technology in healthcare will eventually begin to shift over to the use of 2-D symbologies to accommodate size restrictions and the growing need for large amounts of data. As mobile phones are used more and more, this is already becoming a reality and will be a vital step towards the development of mHealth.

Summing Up

There is constant change in the medical industry, from new treatments and medications to new legislation. In many ways, barcode technology usage in healthcare has been consistent. Barcode solutions boost efficiency and accuracy in everyday processes. Barcodes enable quick and accurate data entry for the healthcare industry, allowing time to be spent increasing efficiencies instead of manually entering data. By allowing practitioners to focus more on their patients, barcode technology improves efficiency, patient safety, and quality of patient care.

Helpful Information

How does barcode technology improve patient safety in healthcare?

Barcode technology in healthcare can significantly enhance patient safety by ensuring accurate identification of patients, medications, and equipment. It helps prevent medication errors, misidentification of patients, and misuse of medical devices, reducing the potential for adverse health events.

What is a barcode medication administration system?

A barcode medication administration (BCMA) system is a technology that uses barcodes and scanners to verify that the correct medication is being given to the correct patient at the correct time. This system helps to prevent medication errors and enhance patient safety.

What role does barcode technology play in patient identification?

In healthcare settings, barcode technology is used for patient identification by placing barcodes on patient wristbands. When scanned, these barcodes pull up the patient's medical record, ensuring that the correct care is given to the right patient and reducing identification errors.

Can barcode technology help in tracking patient progress?

Yes, barcode technology can track patient progress throughout their healthcare journey. By scanning barcodes on patient wristbands, healthcare providers can access and update patient records, track administered treatments, and monitor patient progress over time.

What is the impact of barcode technology on lab specimen tracking?

Barcode technology improves the accuracy and efficiency of lab specimen tracking. When a specimen is collected, a barcode is attached to it and scanned, linking it to the correct patient and test. This prevents mix-ups and misidentification of specimens, enhancing patient safety.

How does barcode technology enhance the efficiency of healthcare staff?

Barcode technology streamlines processes and reduces manual data entry, increasing healthcare staff efficiency. By scanning barcodes, healthcare providers can quickly access patient records, administer medications accurately, track equipment, and more, allowing them to focus more on patient care.

Can barcode technology prevent duplicate medical records?

Yes, by assigning a unique barcode to each patient, barcode technology can help prevent the creation of duplicate medical records. It ensures that every entry is made under the correct patient file, improving record accuracy and patient safety.

How is barcode technology integrated into Electronic Health Records (EHRs)?

Barcode technology is integrated into EHRs to facilitate quick and accurate access to patient information. When a patient's barcode is scanned, their digital health record is pulled up, allowing healthcare providers to view medical history, administer treatments, and update records in real time.

Does barcode technology play a role in surgical safety?

Yes, in surgical settings, barcode technology can be used to verify patient identity, ensure correct surgical site and procedure, and track surgical instruments. This helps prevent surgical errors and enhances patient safety.

What are the limitations of barcode technology in patient safety?

While barcode technology greatly enhances patient safety, it's not foolproof. Limitations include potential system failures, incorrect barcode scanning, and non-compliance by staff. Proper training and system maintenance are crucial for effective use.

How does barcode technology affect patient privacy?

Barcode technology can enhance patient privacy by limiting access to patient information. Only staff with barcode scanners can access patient data, and this access can be tracked and monitored. However, as with all digital data, there's a need for robust cybersecurity measures to prevent data breaches.

How is barcode technology used in managing medical equipment?

Barcode technology helps track and manage medical equipment. Devices equipped with barcodes can be scanned to record their location and usage, monitor maintenance schedules, and ensure their proper utilization, enhancing patient safety and operational efficiency.

What is the cost-effectiveness of barcode technology in healthcare?

While implementing barcode technology involves an initial investment, the reduction in medication errors, improved efficiency, and enhanced patient safety can lead to cost savings over time. These benefits can outweigh the initial costs, making barcode technology a cost-effective solution for many healthcare facilities.

Does barcode technology improve communication in healthcare teams?

Yes, barcode technology can improve communication within healthcare teams by providing real-time updates on patient status, medication administration, and equipment usage. This enables efficient coordination and collaboration among healthcare providers, enhancing patient care and safety.

Can barcode technology reduce hospital readmissions?

By reducing medication errors, improving accuracy of care, and facilitating better tracking of patient progress, barcode technology can contribute to improved patient outcomes, which may in turn reduce hospital readmissions.

How does barcode technology enhance inventory management in healthcare?

Barcode technology streamlines inventory management in healthcare by tracking medication and equipment. Barcodes can provide real-time updates on stock levels, locations, and usage rates, enabling timely reordering and reducing the risk of shortages.

Can barcode technology be used in blood transfusions?

Yes, barcode technology is crucial in blood transfusions to ensure that the right blood type is given to the right patient. By scanning barcodes on both the patient's ID band and the blood bag, healthcare providers can verify compatibility, significantly reducing the risk of transfusion errors.

How does barcode technology improve patient experience?

While less direct, the impact of barcode technology on patient experience is significant. By reducing errors, speeding up processes, and ensuring correct treatments, barcode technology contributes to safer, more efficient care, which can improve patient satisfaction.

What is the future of barcode technology in healthcare?

The future of barcode technology in healthcare involves more advanced types of barcodes like QR codes and RFID tags, and integration with other technologies like AI and IoT. These advancements will further improve patient safety, operational efficiency, and data accuracy in healthcare.


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