Bar coding offers safety net for meds dispensed at bedside


GREEN BAY — Bellin Health recently instituted a new bar coding system – the first in the Green Bay area – designed to increase safety when dispensing medication to patients.

The bar coding system – in which scannable bar codes are used to more accurately identify a patient’s medication – is a proactive measure to improve the process of administering medication to patients, said Cindy Suplinski, a registered nurse at Bellin.

“We want to reduce the potential for making mistakes,” Suplinski said. “We’re just adding another layer of safety to our established procedures for dispensing medication to our patients.”

According to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 1.5 million people are harmed each year in the United States due to medication errors. “The true number may be much higher,” the institute’s July 2006 report brief says.

“When giving a patient his or her medication, there frequently are external factors, like the hospital’s paging systems, ringing telephones and even nearby conversations, which can lead to momentary distraction and error,” she said. “This new technology is like having a buddy to bring to the patient’s bedside – a buddy who can’t be distracted, thereby minimizing the chance for error.”

Upon admission to Bellin, a patient is given an identification wristband with a bar code. The code corresponds to the patients’ computerized medical records and offers information on medication history, current medications, allergies, side effects and so on. Authorized nurses and pharmacists have immediate access to this information.

Bellin’s pharmacy ensures that all medication to be dispensed to patients is properly coded. The nurse or therapist then scans the medication before administering to a patient and “if there is any reason a patient shouldn’t be getting that medication, for example, if the medication has been changed or stopped, the computer will immediately alert our nurse or therapist,” Suplinski said.

The bar code measure comes nearly 19 months after the Food and Drug Administration required coding on most hospital medications. The FDA estimates that bar coding will trim medication errors by about 500,000 mistakes over the next 20 years.

“Still, nationwide research shows that only about 13 percent of pharmacies were using bar coded medication last year,” said Mike Stiller, pharmacy team leader at Bellin. “We’re pleased to be one of the few facilities across the nation currently able to offer our patients bar coded medication and the accompanying security and safety that comes with instituting such a system.”