Sutter Health Attributes Reduced Medication Errors to Bar-Coding Program
A medication bar-coding program at Sutter Health hospitals has helped prevent 28,000 medication errors, 2,600 of which could have caused moderate or serious harm, the Sacramento Bee reports. Since the program was implemented a year ago, Sutter has administered about 2.6 million medication doses to patients at the 10 hospitals in which it is used.
The system lets nurses log on to computers in patient rooms to access the patient's medication list. A color-coded list alerts nurses when medications need to be administered. Before distributing drugs, nurses scan their identification badge, the medication and patients' wristbands. The system issues warnings if a nurse tries to administer the wrong drug or if the medication could cause an allergic reaction.
Gordon Hunt, Sutter's chief medical officer, said he used the Institute of Medicine's 1999 report on medication errors to persuade Sutter to spend $25 million to install bedside bar-code scanners at each of its Northern California hospitals by the end of 2005, the Bee reports. Hunt said he does not expect a financial return on the technology investment, but it should benefit patients.
Fewer than 25% of hospitals nationwide have implemented any technology in the past five years to reduce errors, according to David Lawrence, retired chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente and an author of the IOM report.
R. Adams Dudley, a professor of health policy at the University of California-San Francisco, said a lack of funds is one of the reasons why more hospitals have not adopted the technology. "It is a failure of the health care market," Dudley said, adding, "Hospitals could spend billions on bar coding and other technology that reduces mistakes, and nobody would pay them a dime more to treat patients than before they made that investment" (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 11/24).