AHRQ report shows how barcoding medication improves quality and safety

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's National Resource Center for Health Information Technology has released a report that shows how barcode medication administration can improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare.

The report, released Wednesday, focuses on lessons learned from AHRQ projects where barcode medication administration and  electronic medication administration record technologies (eMAR) were used.

According to the AHRQ, medication errors are the most frequent cause of adverse medical events. The Institute of Medicine has estimated that   more than one million injuries and almost 100,000 deaths can be attributed to medical errors every year. Adverse drug events are estimated to cost the industry $2 billion a year.

Studies published in the (italics) Journal of the American Medical Association (end italics) and other medical journals show that while computerized physician order entry has been shown to prevent 55 percent of order errors, many other errors occur in the dispensing, transcribing and administering stages of the medication process. Although the standard is for nurses to check the "five rights" of medication use – right patient, right medication, right dose, right route and right time – only 34 percent of dispensing and 2 percent of administration errors are caught prior to reaching the patient.

AHRQ recommends an electronic means of dispensing and checking medication. However according to a study published in the (italics) New England Journal of Medicine, (end italics) adoption in the United States is still low. In 2005, only 5 percent of hospitals reported having any sort of BCMA system.

According to the AHRQ, providers aren't adopting the technology because of the complex issues associated with it, including getting buy-in from staff, selecting vendors, preparing for changes in workflow, training nurses and pharmacists, finding technical support and evaluating the impact on quality of care.

According to AHRQ grantees used for the study, after an initial learning period, nurses and nurse managers were satisfied with the new eMAR and BCMA systems, believing that the systems make them better clinicians.