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Bar Codes Could Mean Fewer Medical Errors

Mar 22, 2003 | Amarillo Globe News

Hydroxyzine and Hydralazine reign as the classic sound-alike medications that lead to medication errors, said Randy Brooks, the chief pharmacist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Amarillo.

Soon however, if the Food and Drug Administration has its way, bar codes placed on pills, injections and intravenous fluids will be used to prevent medication errors.

Under the FDA proposal, a bar code on the pill package and a bar code on the hospital patient's name/identification bracelet will be scanned and matched before any medication is given.

Various studies claim between 44,000 and 98,000 hospital patients die each year as a result of medication errors, according to the Center for Health Policy Research.

The Amarillo VA hospital already uses a bar code, computerized patient information system, Brooks said.

Baptist St. Anthony's Health System is working on a bar code medication system, said Mary Barlow, director of BSA corporate relations.

VA nurses use held-hand scanners to check the patient's bracelet and the medication, Brooks said. The bar code technology prevents medication errors, including the wrong drug and the wrong dose, he said.

The computerized system also prevents drugs from going to patients who are known to be allergic, administering drugs at the wrong time and other errors.

The number of look-alike and sound-alike drugs has increased in recent years because of new medications on the market, Brooks said.

Hydroxyzine is an antihistamine medication, while Hydralazine is a blood pressure medicine, Brooks said.

Celebrex and Celexa are similarly confused, said Michelle Condren, an assistant professor at the Texas Tech University School of Pharmacy in Amarillo. The drugs are used separately to treat inflammation and depression.

With bar coding, the added safety to patients starts in the pharmacy, she said.

"It assures you, you took the right bottle off the shelf," Condren said.

Earlier this month, the FDA started a 90-day comment period on the bar code requirement.

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