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Barcode technology helping to improve patient safety

Barcodes are being used to trace NHS patients and their treatments, manage medical supplies and monitor the effectiveness of equipment.

The barcode technology used in major industries such as aerospace and retail is being introduced to the NHS in England to improve patient safety. Barcodes are being placed on breast implants, replacement hips, medication and surgical tools.

The £12 million Department of Health ‘Scan4Safety’ project is already helping staff to quickly and easily track each patient through their hospital journey. From the unique barcodes on wristbands patients receive when they enter hospital, to the barcodes used to record their medication and the equipment used in their treatment, each code can be scanned to show which member of staff administered each treatment, at what time and where.

By using barcodes, anything that might develop a fault years later, for example a screw used in a knee operation or breast implant, can be traced. The details, such as when it was used and the surgeon who carried out the procedure, can be found quickly and easily.

This technology will also help to eliminate avoidable harm in hospitals, including errors such as patients being administered the wrong drugs and surgery being performed on the wrong part of the body.

Early results from 6 pilot projects show Scan4Safety has the potential to save lives and save up to £1 billion for the NHS over 7 years.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt said:

Scan4Safety is a world first in healthcare – and a vital part of this government’s drive to make the NHS the safest and most transparent healthcare system in the world.

Using simple barcodes that major industries rely on every day will help to transform standards of care – before, during and after patients have treatment, at the same time as freeing up resources for care by reducing waste.

Scan4Safety is being piloted in 6 NHS trusts in Derby, Leeds, Salisbury, Cornwall, North Tees and Plymouth. These sites have reported that the scheme is reducing unnecessary waste and effectively managing medical stocks, saving valuable staff time and giving the patient more information about their treatment.

Tim Wells, Consultant Cardiologist at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, said:

The recent implementation of the Scan4Safety project in cardiology provides us for the very first time complete traceability of products such as implantable medical devices used with our patients.

Knowledge is power - not only does this provide us with a level of data and insight that can be used to better challenge clinical practice and variation, helping us to reduce inefficiencies and improve patient experience and outcomes - more importantly it ultimately helps to safeguard our patients from avoidable harm. In the event of a product recall, we can now easily and quickly track an affected product to the right patient.

On average, nurses spend 1 hour a day on every shift searching for stock – by using the barcode technology, NHS staff can keep track of hospital goods and order them automatically when they need them.

Scan4Safety removes human inventory errors, and registers ‘use-by’ dates on medicines and equipment so that stock can be managed easily and patients given the most appropriate medicines. Scan4Safety can also be used to see how effective different equipment is, for example, if one type of hip replacement wears out more easily than another, improving patient outcomes and helping to make the health system more effective.

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