Bar-Coded Medication Administration Systems

June 3, 2020 | Health System Risk Management


A bar-coded medication administration (BCMA) system is an important tool in the effort to prevent medication errors. During medication administration, BCMA supports the goal of verifying that the medication being given to the patient matches the specifications of the medication order (e.g., right drug, right dose, right route).

A BCMA system is integrated with the organization's electronic health record (EHR) and typically consists of the following components:

When administering a medication, system users scan the bar-code labels on both the patient's identification wristband and the medication packaging. If the system detects a discrepancy anywhere in the process, an audible or visual alert is triggered. For example, when there is not an active order for the patient or the dosage scanned is higher than what was ordered, the system alerts the user. (Grissinger)

Studies show that proper use of a BCMA system can greatly reduce the risk of errors during medication administration, which, along with medication prescribing, is more error-prone than other stages of the medication use process (IOM; Leape et al.). BCMA provides the last opportunity to catch a medication error before it reaches the patient (Poon et al.; Leung et al.). At other stages, there is still the possibility...

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