Barcodes for safety

By: April Lacey

Staff members who administer medication at the bedside are the last line of defense when it comes to preventing medication errors. And now, they have a new tool to help double-check medications and ensure that errors don’t occur.


Barcode scanners are being used in nearly all adult units in the hospital as well as in the emergency departments at UF Health Shands Hospital, UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and UF Health Springhill.

“When we think of medication safety technology there is a trilogy: electronic medical records, smart pumps and barcode medication administration,” said Amy Rosenberg, Pharm.D., a clinical pharmacy specialist in quality and patient safety at UF Health Shands Hospital. “It is another piece of technology that helps catch errors at the bedside.”

Here’s how it works. Physicians prescribe medication. When the pharmacy dispenses it, the medicine has a barcode on it. When team members prepare to administer the medication, they scan the barcode on the patient’s wristband and the barcode on the medicine to make sure that medication matches what is ordered for that patient.

“We have seen on the units using barcode medication administration that compliance in scanning medications is greater than 90 percent,” said Cassie Marcelle, M.S.N., RN-BC, a UF Health Shands Hospital nursing systems analyst. “It has dramatically improved safety for patients. We have had some near misses caught because of this.”

The team is currently using two different systems. In the emergency departments, staff members are using handheld scanners that work with an app. In other units throughout the hospital, staff members are using manual scanners attached to bedside computers.

Marcelle says the two systems are both still under evaluation and team members will assess what works best. Once additional decisions are made about the best device to use, remaining units will go live.

“It is a milestone to get this,” Marcelle said. “Everyone put in an incredible amount of work — the pharmacy, IT and nursing staff — and they did it so well.”