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Pfizer To Put Bar Codes On Pills To Reduce Medication Errors

Jan 15, 2003 | Wall Street Journal

Pfizer Inc., in a bid to reduce medication errors, said it will begin printing bar codes on individually packaged pills used in hospitals, Wednesday's Wall Street Journal reported.

The move is the most comprehensive by a major pharmaceutical company to make medicines used in hospitals compatible with computerized systems to assure that a patient is getting the right medicine in the right strength at the right time.

Medication mix-ups are common and may contribute to more than 7,000 deaths a year in the U.S., according to a 1999 report on medical errors by the National Institute of Medicine. The precise number of medication mistakes is unclear, but it is expected that the problem can be greatly reduced by computerized systems, available in some hospitals, that allow a nurse to check the dosage at a patient's bedside before administering the drug.

By year end, Pfizer expects each dose of all 30 medicines it sells in blister packs for hospital use to feature a bar code and text that identify the medicine, its dosage, lot number and expiration date.

Drug makers have been slow to add the information in computer-readable form to individual medicine packages, citing the added expense and lack of a uniform standard for encoding the information. Further, only 10% to 15% of hospitals, by some estimates, have invested in technology to use bar-code systems to reduce medication errors. Besides the cost of equipment, those hospitals now must generate their own special labels to stick on medicine cups or envelopes because drug makers generally do not.

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