To date, fewer than 2% of hospitals have implemented bedside bar coding systems, but many of those have documented significant cuts in errors. The Dept. of Veterans Affairs piloted a bar code system in its Comerly O'Neil Medical Center in Topeka, Kan., in 1994. That achieved an 86% reduction in medication errors over five years. No drug errors occurred when the system was used as designed.
The government hopes a new regulation requiring bar codes on prescription drug and biological product packaging will prevent nearly 500,000 medical errors over the next 20 years. But patient safety advocates say getting hospitals to adopt bedside bar code technologies might not be so black and white.
MultiCare, an integrated delivery system in Tacoma, Wash., is in the home stretch of a decade-long, $140 million IT implementation that won the organization a 2009 Davies Award. The last piece of the puzzle is bedside bar coding for medication administration, now in place at two of the system's four hospitals and scheduled to be in all inpatient facilities by June.