Towards better, more efficient and safer patient care: Barcode scanning in healthcare

By Ryan Mccann
Tuesday, 04 October, 2016



Barcodes are already widely used across the medical sector, particularly in warehouses and central pharmacies, though they’ve also made some inroads into clinical environments too – patient wristbands, bio-samples, test tubes and order sheets, just to name a few.
There’s no doubt that the technology can improve processes and enhance patient safety, but there are frequently issues. Often this is the result of short-sighted strategy; barcode schemes are introduced piecemeal across a range of functions, rather than holistically. This is understandable, given the economic and logistical issues that hospitals frequently have to work within, but can cause a number of issues.
The end result is a situation where different types of code are being used in a clinical environment, requiring different scanning devices, sometimes even on the same product. On top of this, in some instances healthcare staff need to manually key instructions into their scanning device to capture data. This results in decreased efficiency, as staff must spend time wrangling numerous devices and recalling the purposes of different codes – all of which naturally increase the potential margin for human error, particularly in a high pressure hospital environment.
In turn, this can result in a decreased quality of care, and potentially life-threatening mix-ups. One example in recent years was the PIP breast implants scandal – implants of bad quality were widely distributed and, even if they were properly labelled, the barcodes appear to have been severely under-utilised. It was nearly impossible to trace which patient received which implant, and the issues caused are likely to be ongoing in the coming years.
To avoid issues like this, the move towards the use of standardised, GS1 compliant 2D barcodes is gathering pace in the healthcare industry. 2D barcodes – such as Data Matrix codes – allow considerably more data to be stored than the standard vertical-line 1D barcodes, which reduces the need for multiple devices to be used as well.
The future of seamless data capture, from devices, equipment, medicine and people – data that’s easily shared with databases – is here, now. If implemented properly, it will aid in:


  • Clinicians improving positive patient identification, reducing errors and simultaneously improving patient care.

  • Accurate data capture

  • Greater visibility across the supply chain – at the point of dispensing and at the point of care.

  • Ensuring the right medicine is being dispensed, to the right patient, at the right time.

  • Reduce error and improve clinical records.


The processes can be used across clinical settings from doctors’ practices to care homes and hospitals, and patients will, in the future, come to expect that their caregiver will scan their wristband before giving them medicine or an injection.
Zebra offers a broad portfolio of scanners, across a wide range of size and portability. From handheld and hands-free through to fixed mount, there is a scanner for all types of healthcare environment. Need help implementing tomorrow’s tech trends today? To find out more on how Zebra’s innovative solutions help healthcare organisations achieve an unprecedented level of efficiency, as well improve quality of care, please visit zebra.com/healthcare or contact Amy Kwong via akwong@zebra.com
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