Does Bar Code Scanning Reduce Hospital Malpractice Incidents?

Barcode Scanning

In an attempt to reduce hospital malpractice claims for medication errors, nearly every hospital in the country has implemented bar code scanning procedures. This technology is designed to add extra safeguards to drug administration. For the most part, these electronic tracking systems do improve patient safety; despite this, medication errors have not disappeared or even significantly declined. Patients are still at risk of receiving the wrong drug or the wrong dosage, and nurses and other parties responsible for the barcode system are still at risk for hospital malpractice lawsuits.

Barcode Scanning Procedures

Hospital bar code systems are based upon the same technology as grocery store checkout scanners. In the hospital setting, the process begins when an order for medication is entered into a patient’s electronic record. The program verifies that the patient is not allergic to the newly prescribed drug and that it won’t cause an adverse interaction with the patient’s other medications. Drugs are then individually packaged and labeled with a barcode. At the patient’s bedside, nurses use a handheld scanner along with a mobile computer to scan the patient’s wristband and the medication to ensure that no errors are made in administration. The system sends out an alert if it detects the wrong patient, medication, dosage or administration time.

Nursing Bar Code Errors

Bar code systems are effective only when the nursing staff follows the correct procedures at all times. Negligence that leads to hospital malpractice claims does occur, however. Nurses sometimes find the technology time-consuming or inconvenient and they devise ways to work around it. They may override medication alerts or keep duplicate patient wristbands to make the scanning process easier. Nurses also get distracted, leaving medication unattended on computer carts, which they then administer without rescanning. Negligence in following scanning procedures can result in nurses being named in hospital malpractice lawsuits.

Problems with Bar Code Scanning Systems

As with any technology, electronic scanning and tracking systems can experience problems such as unreliable connectivity, glitches in programming and lifeless batteries. When nurses constantly encounter issues with the bar code scanning, it can be difficult for them to use the system correctly when administering medication. Following proper procedures can also be challenging in hospital units with high medication scan rates, such as surgery recovery units where stabilizing medication may need to be administered quickly and repeatedly. When barcode technology fails, or when a system is not properly designed, it can lead to hospital malpractice claims.

Hospitals have made great strides in improving patient safety by putting barcode systems in place. But these systems aren’t perfect, and patients still face the danger of possible negligence and medical errors. If you or a loved one has experienced a medication error due to improper drug administration that may be related to bar code scanning, contact the experienced attorneys at Rasmussen and Miner in Salt Lake City. Their professional attorneys will be happy to schedule a free consultation to discuss your hospital malpractice case.