HHS Calls on Drugmakers to Use Bar Codes
HHS Assistant Secretary Bobby Jindal yesterday announced a proposal calling for all "hospital-administered" medications to carry "supermarket-style" bar codes to reduce drug errors, the AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. At an American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists meeting, Jindal said drug errors injure or kill 50,000 to 100,000 patients annually, with an "economic toll" of $177 billion. Prescription bar codes would include a drug's "properties and expiration dates." Patients would wear wristbands with bar codes that provide "personal information, including the person's ailments or any allergies." After doctors scan both the drug's bar code and the patient's wristband, a computer program would "identify possible risks" by comparing the information from both sources. Jindal said, "This allows [health care providers] to rely on a computer to make sure they're giving the right amount of medicine or that they don't give the wrong medicine." The AP/Journal Sentinel reports, however, that drug makers wanted to "examin[e] the fine print and possible costs" before endorsing the proposal. Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, said, "[T]he devil is in the details and we need to see the details. This is going to be technically challenging, potentially time-consuming and potentially very expensive." According to ASHP Director of Federal Regulatory Affairs Gerry Stein, implementing the bar codes could cost drug makers between $500 million and $1.4 billion over the next decade, but that amount is "dwarfed" by the costs associated with hospital-administered medication errors. Jindal said that several hospitals, including Veterans' Affairs facilities, have already invested in the computer scanners, but "often cannot take advantage of the technology because many drug labels lack bar codes." The AP/Journal Sentinel reports that the FDA will have to publish a draft of its proposal and allow for a public comment period prior to launching the program (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.