In its 1999 landmark report, To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, the Institute of Medicine shed light on a startling reality: preventable medical errors were causing the deaths of up to 98,000 patients annually in U.S. hospitals. This study served as a catalyst for patient safety improvements throughout health systems. While medical errors haven’t been eliminated, the past 25 years have witnessed significant strides in patient safety. Among the hundreds of technological advancements that have emerged since that influential report, barcode technology stands out as having a profound impact on reducing preventable errors. Today, barcodes are used throughout healthcare systems to track patients, medications, medical equipment, and more, improving patient safety, reducing costs, and streamlining operations.

Barcode Technology in the Healthcare Industry

If you walk around a hospital today, it’s unlikely you’ll travel more than a few steps without seeing barcode technology in use. From patient admissions and medication administration to inventorying incoming supplies and tracking medical devices, barcodes help healthcare organizations elevate patient safety, streamline operations and reduce costs. Although many organizations have been utilizing barcodes in creative ways since the 1970s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that barcode use in healthcare became more widespread. This was due, in part, to the development of newer, more reliable barcode scanners and the increasing focus on patient safety. In fact, a 2007 survey by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) identified barcode specimen systems as the number one priority for reducing medical errors and improving patient safety. 

Barcode Technology Addresses These Pain Points

Barcode technology addresses a number of operational challenges including the achievement of important Joint Commission National Patient Safety goals.

Patient Identification Errors

Patient identification mistakes can cause a number of errors, ranging from medication administration to unnecessary procedures. When a patient is misidentified, they may receive the wrong medication, tests, surgery, treatment and more.

Medication Errors

Medication errors are a leading cause of patient harm in hospitals. In fact, The Agency For Healthcare Research And Quality reports that nearly 5% of hospitalized patients experience an Adverse Drug Event (ADE). Barcode technology can help to reduce medication errors by ensuring that the correct medication is given to the correct patient at the correct time.

Specimen Collection, Testing and Analysis

Specimens inform the care team's understanding of the patient. It allows them to confirm a diagnosis and build a treatment plan. Accurate collection is crucial to avoid mistaken results and prevent patient harm. Barcodes improve specimen labeling, reduce errors and streamline lab processes.

Inventory Management

According to data from Definitive Healthcare, the average hospital maintains over $13 million in medical and surgical supplies. From disposable syringes to medications and expensive implants, tracking inventory is crucial for efficient financial management. Barcodes are an essential component of inventory management systems. 

Asset Tracking

​​Medical equipment and devices, medications, furniture, IT infrastructure,and more, are examples of the many assets that healthcare organizations manage. Barcode technology helps track these assets, assuring prompt equipment availability when needed, reducing delays and enhancing operational efficiency. 

The UAL Custom Label Designer makes it easy to design asset tracking labels with unique numbering and barcode series.

Barcodes Enhance Patient Safety and Care

When HIMSS first identified the importance of barcode technology, the primary motivation was the potential to enhance patient safety. In fact, there are a number of ways that barcodes enhance patient safety and care: For example, barcodes advance:

  • Accurate patient identification: Barcode technology ensures that the correct patient is identified before any care is provided. As noted above, if a patient is misidentified, it can lead to a variety of errors that may harm the patient. UAL admission labels and wristbands provide positive patient identification.
  • Correct medication administration: Barcode technology allows care providers to match the proper medications to the correct patient and to ensure the medication is administered at the proper time. 
  • Specimen collection and analysis: Barcodes help prevent specimen identification errors and other processing challenges that allow the care team to confirm a diagnosis and build a treatment plan.

Do your medication labels require unique barcodes? United Ad Label has the custom label capabilities to meet your needs.

Using Barcodes with Electronic Health Record (EHR) Systems

Barcode technology works hand in hand with the EHR systems hospitals employ. For example, EPIC and Cerner utilize barcode technology to improve workflow efficiency and accuracy in clinical settings. EPIC Rover and Cerner CareAware allow nurses and other healthcare providers to access patient information, document care activities, and scan barcodes for medication administration and specimen collection. 

Using barcode scanning at the point of care allows clinicians to access information held in the EHR and make informed decisions in real-time.

User Experience and Staff Training

Whether it’s scanning an item at self-checkout or using a smartphone to read a QR code, clinicians are familiar with scanning technology. However, how that technology integrates with each unique hospital system or protocol requires additional steps. Training programs that cover the specific process steps, system functionality, troubleshooting and best practices increase compliance which in turn increases patient safety and staff efficiency. 

Patient Experience and Engagement

For a patient, it goes without saying that during hospitalization, they expect accurate testing, diagnosis and treatments. But what most patients likely don’t realize is that barcodes play a significant role in improving the patient experience and engagement. 

From admission through discharge, barcodes allow clinicians to verify tests and medications, guard against allergic reactions, guide procedures and ensure treatments are intended for the right patient. Barcodes can also guide meal selection and even monitor visitor access. Plus, the technology allows the patient to perform scans that verify appropriate care, increasing their comfort level with the process. Upon discharge, barcodes can guide treatment options and recovery plans. 

Ultimately, barcodes can help engage the patient, elevate care and improve their experience. 

United Ad Label Products Support Barcode Scanning in Healthcare

With nearly 60 years of serving healthcare organizations, UAL supplies hundreds of products that support barcode scanning in hospitals including admission wristbands, allergy alert labels, anesthesia labels, IV line identification labels, pharmacy information system (PIS) labels, laboratory information system (LIS) labels and more. Request our complete catalog of products here