Barcodes in Healthcare: System Error or Work Environment?

This morning I was trying to do some research into the use of Barcodes in the medical profession when I stumbled upon this article which states ‘Barcode Systems to Reduce Hospital Drug Errors not Foolproof.’ It is the result of research carried out into the results of Barcode technology being deployed as a safety check against errors in drug administration. However the conclusion is that in some cases it has not worked for a variety of reasons; namely that staff have found ways to work around the system.

Naming just a few of the methods the article describes “how nurses wearing duplicate patient identification barcodes on their arms for several patients, carrying several patients’ pre-scanned medications on one tray, or disabling system alarms to avoid disturbing patients.” This demonstrates not a flaw in the use of barcodes but in the implementation of any scheme, it is only as good as those carrying it out.

It is well known in computing that the weakest point of security in any system is always the user who gets lazy and complacent. The article therefore seems to be missing the point, as big companies so often do. You can have lists of protocol or multimillion pound computer systems but if your staff are not motivated or don’t have the time to carry them out properly you are bound to fail. Aside from pointing out the obvious, that a properly funded healthcare system without a drive for profits is the only way to stop this kind of thing, this article shows that in any industry you can invest all you want in products and systems but the surest way of raising performance is looking after your staff. Whether that be through motivation, education or simply ensuring they have the time to carry out the tasks designated properly.

Therefore such safety net systems are of immense value, especially where errors are so serious, but before blaming the system have a look at the environment staff are working in.

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