Wednesday, September 20, 2006

High-Tech Pharmacies are Safer for Patients

Using bar coding in the hospital pharmacy may help prevent dangerous prescription errors, according to a new study.

Reporting in the Sept. 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston compared the rates of medication dispensing errors before and after bar coding technology was implemented at the hospital pharmacy.

With the new technology, every dose of medication was affixed with a bar code, and these codes were scanned in as an additional step to ensure that the right medications were being dispensed. Without the bar coding, the pharmacists relied on visual inspections alone to make sure they were dispensing the right medication.

After implementing the bar coding technology, the rate of dispensing errors fell by 85 percent, and the rate of dispensing errors with the potential to harm patients fell by 63 percent.

The bar coding technology was most effective when it required the pharmacy staff to scan all doses of medications.

"Overall, the use of bar code scanning technology appears to have a significant impact on the rate of dispensing errors that were serious enough to potentially harm patients," lead author Eric Poon, an associate physician in the hospital's department of general medicine, said in a prepared statement.