The role of barcode technology in patient safety and identification

Sept. 18, 2012
How barcode technology solutions can streamline everyday processes to keep patients safe and increase operational efficiencies.

Patient safety and care in a healthcare practice is a top concern that doctors, nurses, administrators and staff aim to improve every day. However, even the most skilled, veteran practitioners are not immune to the occasional human error. Over the past few decades, there have been incredible advancements in patient safety, due in part to better technology. One technology that has had a tremendous impact is the barcode. In addition to increased patient safety and identification, this technology offers many other benefits, including improved operational efficiencies.

Patient safety and identification
Healthcare barcode solutions help streamline the patient admittance process, track medication and care admission, and identify patients throughout their entire stay. Barcode wristbands are typically created at the point of admission, and specific patient information is continually updated based on the patients’ needs. Medical records, medications and specimen samples are tagged with a barcode label for doctors and nurses to easily scan in order to trace critical patient information. For example, a nurse can use a mobile printer to create a barcode wristband while at the patient’s bedside. Each time a medication is being administered, a nurse or doctor can scan the patient’s wristband, scan the barcode on the medication and it will be instantly recorded in the patient’s medical record. The barcode technology makes sure the correct treatment is administered to the right patient, ultimately reducing errors and ensuring patient safety.

Barcode solutions are also critical for workflow changes in hospitals and healthcare practices. Through barcode technology, practitioners can see all the previous notes and medical information tied to the unique barcode linked to each patient. The medical staff can easily access records and see where a patient is in terms of his or her medication cycle and any other care the patient may require. When doctors and nurses can work more efficiently and care for patients more thoroughly during their shift, they are saving the hospital time and resources. Additionally, as more and more healthcare practices convert to electronic medical records, barcode solutions eliminate manual data collection and allow all patient information to be easily and instantly collected and recorded electronically, further reducing potential human error.

Seamless adoption and ease of use
When barcode technologies are implemented, healthcare professionals’ focus should be on patient care, not learning the new technology. For that to happen, the solutions need to fit seamlessly into the healthcare practice’s existing software solutions and infrastructure. Barcode solutions can use either thermal or laser printers. Zebra Technologies recently acquired Laser Band to increase the company’s healthcare printing offerings for customers. This is a great example of how a vendor can provide hospitals and healthcare practices with a choice of thermal or laser printers to help create seamless adoption. Hospitals that have already invested in laser printers can easily implement barcode tracking systems, or slowly adopt thermal printers.

With any technology implementation comes the assumption that the process will be complicated and have a learning curve. However, one hospital administrator referenced how easy the barcode printers and scanners are to use, even for the least technology-savvy nurses. Barcode printers are typically small, durable and even mobile. The process of changing cartridges is extremely intuitive and quick. Also, the day-to-day benefits are immediate and substantial, which contributes to the fast adoption process as doctors and nurses want to use the technology.

Importance of wristband durability
With every new technology, planning and testing before implementation helps with seamless adoption, but also rallies the staff behind it. It is critical to use a wristband brand that is comfortable, while still durable and meets the needs of patients, clinicians and healthcare practices. Typically, when a hospital decides to implement a barcode technology solution, the staff tries the barcode wristbands by wearing one throughout their daily chores. When using a top-quality wristband and printer, medical staff are surprised to see how after 10 days the wristbands are still intact and able to be scanned even after taking showers, washing dishes and working among chemicals. It is crucial the wristbands stay in good condition for the entire duration of a patient’s stay to provide consistent and accurate identification, tracking and recording for each patient.

The healthcare industry is changing every day from new medication and treatments to new legislation. In many ways, barcode technology can be a constant. The barcode solutions help make everyday processes more accurate and increase operational efficiencies. Because of easy integration, a small learning curve and high-quality products, barcode technology allows practitioners to focus more on their patients, ensuring patients are safe and receiving the best care possible.

About the author
Alicia Torres is the healthcare global practice leader for Zebra Technologies and has 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry. For more information please visit

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