Following a recent request to pharmaceutical companies to make prescription drug information easier to swallow for patients, the FDA is now seeking to reduce the error rate associated with prescription drug delivery in hospitals through the use of bar codes.
Setting out its decision on February 25, 2004, the FDA hopes that by attaching the more ergonomic bar code system to hospital-distributed prescriptions, nearly half a million side effects and medical errors attributable to worker error will be eliminated over the next 20 years.
“Bar codes can help doctors, nurses and hospitals make sure that they give their patients the right drugs at the appropriate dosage,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told CNN.com. “By giving health care providers a way to check medications and doses quickly, we create an opportunity to reduce the risk of medication errors that can seriously harm patients.”
The bar code system works through the use of coded patient wrist bands. Hospital workers use scanning software to read each wrist band and again to confirm the selection of the proper drug and dosage. Workers are alerted that they’ve chosen incorrect drugs or dosages through a computer alarm.
Thus far, only 125 of the over 5000 hospitals in the U.S. use a bar code system for prescription drug distribution, partially because of the limited availability of bar-coded prescriptions from drug manufacturers. The FDA ruling will force prescription drug manufacturers to begin using the bar code system so all hospitals can now adopt the system.
It is currently estimated that 7,000 hospitalized patients die annually because of drug and dosage errors in dispensing.