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Use of Bar Codes to Prevent Medication Errors in Tennessee Hospitals

For years, medication errors have harmed far too many Americans. A decade ago, an independent research study ordered by Congress estimated that 5-10 percent of hospital patients suffered from this form of medical malpractice.

Fortunately, improved technological tools are reducing the number of medication errors. A 2006 study found that computerized drug-ordering systems can cut these errors by as much as 86 percent.

Last year, the landmark federal health reform legislation mandated the implementation of electronic medical records by 2014. Hospitals were also given incentives, in the form of higher Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, for instituting elements of the new digital system before the required date.

Part of this broad effort to reduce errors involves the use of patient bar codes. Three hospitals in Tennessee that are operated by Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. have begun using these bar codes, which are designed to make sure that patients get their medicine - not someone else's.

Bar-coding systems can be used along with systems that enable doctors to order drugs from pharmacies electronically. At the doctor's point of entry, an electronic system can reduce errors by making the doctor choose from a list rather than scrawling difficult-to-read instructions on a pad of paper. And at the bedside, use of the bar code forces the nurse to match up the drug with the specific patient it is intended for.

If you or someone in your family has been injured by medication errors, contact an experienced personal injury attorney.


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