The lifesaving barcode
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
The inestimable value of barcodes in the health sector.
Barcodes saving lives.
The uses of barcodes in the health care industry are manifold, from patient identification, medication management, inventory management, tracking of medical equipment, specimen collection and blood transfusion safety, to hip replacements and breast implants, to name but a few.
Paramount, is patient safety.
The idea of using barcodes in the medical field dates back to 1984 in the USA and 1987 in Europe and known as the HIBC (Health Industry Bar Code). As the barcode needs to be compact and contain a relatively large amount of data, Code 39 was recommended initially and is still in use today. However, Code 128 offers a higher density code and is now utilised where a limited amount of space is available. On minuscule items, the 2-dimensional version of Code 128, known as Codablock F, may be used. Read more about the various barcode symbologies in our previous post, Which barcode is right for you? https://www.barcodeireland.ie/post/which-barcode-is-right-for-you. Within this code both a primary and secondary code are used. The LIC (Labeller Identification Code) and PCN (Product Code Number) comprise the primary code. This includes the identifier for the origin of the label, manufacturer and type of product. The secondary code includes tracking information such as a serial number, expiration date and optionally, quantity.
Patient identification and validation
Having the ability to scan patients wristbands the healthcare professional can ensure they are treating the correct patient with the correct medication/dosage/procedure and thus reducing the incidence of medical error. Patients medical records can also be accessed and updated. Additionally, the point of care motoring not only reduces costs, but increases efficiency and patient safety.
Blood Transfusion safety
Currently one of the largest uses for barcodes in healthcare is in bold banks. Since 2006, the FDA requires that all blood and blood components carry barcodes to eliminate errors in blood transfusions. Each barcode is comprised of a unique identifier of the facility where the blood originates from, a product code, blood type and donors identification number. Here the overlap with patient identification technology ensures patients receive the correct blood type.
Inventory tracking and surgical instrument and implant identification
As in retail, the tracking of inventory within hospitals can be a mammoth and tedious task and as within the retail sector, barcodes are employed in the healthcare industry to monitor inventory, expedite orders and to obviate unnecessary waste. They can be used to expeditiously track a damaged item back to the manufacturer for refund or recall. Additionally, they are used in the pharmacy for stock control, to monitor sell by dates and to ensure the correct medication for the correct patient. In surgery they are used to monitor the sterilisation of instruments and to ensure that no surgical implements remain in the patient post surgery, as well as identifying the last clinician using the equipment and on which patient.
Apart from efficiency, cost effectiveness and safety, barcodes provide a measure of protection to the heath care professional against medical error lawsuits.
The UK Department of Health barcoding initiative December 2016 sought to avoid future scandals like the PIP breast implant scare of 2010. Problems arose in tracing the nearly 50,000 British women who had been fitted with faulty silicone implants. Barcodes are now printed on breast and other medical implants for patient safety.
Prevention of illicit counterfeit medication
From June 9-16 2015, Operation Pangea, an international week of action targeting the online sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines and highlighting the dangers of buying medicines online, recorded the seizure of almost 21 million fake and illicit medicines valued at $81 million.
In Ireland and all EU member states, the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) took effect on 9th Feb 2019 in order to establish a more secure supply chain for the distribution of prescribed medicines. The legislation requires that a 2D barcode must be displayed on all patient packs which are scanned at the point of dispensing for verification purposes, along with tamper evident labelling to enable the authentication of medicines prior to dispensing.
In the near future, the scourge of counterfeit drugs will be combated by embedding an edible micro barcode in/on medications. Chemist Jun Wang and his team of four students at the University of Albany have created a “microQR” (Quick Response) barcode, smaller than 200 micrometers (the size of a particle of dust) containing pertinent information relating to the drugs origin, sell by date etc. Of the cost of the technology, Wang said, “The material itself is very, very inexpensive, and the procedure for making QR bar codes is very standard in the industry, so I don’t think the price would be high”. It can be read by a $10 cellphone app.
The retail sector has long since demonstrated the value of adopting barcodes for inventory control and tracking, efficiency and cost effectiveness across many other industries, including the health care industry, where it has the additional, inestimable benefit of saving lives.
Our barcodes work internationally. Should you require barcodes for your product, please visit our Buy page www.barcodeireland.ie/buy, or contact us on email@example.com or through the contact form on our website www.barcodeireland.ie/contact and let Barcode Ireland help your business.