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New Ulm Medical Center

Bedside barcoding provides added medicine safety

Recently implemented technology at New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC), part of Allina Health, is making the bedside delivery of patient medications even safer.

The technology is a bedside barcoding system. It has been in place since the end of May.

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Bedside barcoding assures that patients are getting the right medications in the right dose at the right time.

“The bedside barcoding system helps assure the right patient is getting the right medication.,” said Reid Horning, NUMC’s pharmacy manager.

As part of the system, barcodes have been added to NUMC patients’ wristbands. When it’s time for caregivers to deliver medications, they take a portable device to the patient’s bedside and use it to scan the patient’s wristband.

“They scan the patient’s wristband first,” said Patient Care Manager Sharie Novak. “That way important patient information is immediately available to the caregivers.”

Then the caregiver scans the medications. “All medications have barcodes attached to them as well,” Horning said.

The caregivers confirm it’s the right patient and the right medication. Then they proceed to deliver the medication or blood product.

Preventing errors

If it isn’t the right patient or the right medication, an electronic red flag shows up on the caregivers’ portable device. This keeps a caregiver from making an error in medication or dose.

“In training, everyone learns about the five rights of administering medications: the right patient, the right drug, at the right dose, at the right time, and by the right route – whether by mouth or intravenously,” Horning said. “This system makes it safer to get right patient and right drug correct.”

Nurses still perform the same set of safety checks that they always have before administering medications or blood products, Novak said. “Barcoding just provides an extra safety net for patients.”

Bedside barcoding also lets the hospital gather real-time data about its delivery of medications. “If we see any weaknesses, we can move quickly to make our processes safer for our patients,” Novak said.

The system has made the delivery of medications and blood products more efficient as well. It took some time for the nurses to adapt to the new workflow, Novak said. But scanning patients’ wristbands and medications does not take longer.

Horning said retailers have long used barcodes to make sure prices are accurate and increase efficiency in their stores. “Health care is catching up,” he said.

“It’s a national trend and the way things need to happen,” Horning added. “We need to make everything as safe as it can be. It makes sense to use the technology we have for that.”

Hitting the target

The hospital aims for a greater than 95 percent accuracy rate in delivering medicines and blood products. “That’s a pretty good target,” Horning said.

It’s not 100 percent only because the system is not used for every medicine and blood product that is given to patients. For example, some patients may be given medicines or blood products in the emergency room before they are admitted and given a wristband with a barcode.

Also, on very rare occasions, patients may be given their own medicines that don’t have barcodes, Horning said.

It didn’t take long for the hospital to meet its target. “We were at 95 percent within the first two months,” Horning said.

“This is cutting-edge technology for a medical-surgical unit,” Novak said. “It’s just part of our continually looking for ways to improve the patient experience. And it’s part of our efforts to stay ahead of the technology curve.”

NUMC joins other Allina Health hospitals in implementing bedside barcoding. Other Allina Health hospitals have found that the barcodes prevented errors.

“We will do some chart research to test how our barcode system is working,” Horning said. “Then we will determine if any errors were in fact prevented as a result of this.”