Bar-Coded Medication Administration Systems

September 1, 2012 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance


A bar-coded medication administration (BCMA) system is a valuable tool in the effort to prevent medication administration errors. It supports the goal of verifying the patient’s “five rights”: when used correctly, a BCMA system can ensure that the right drug is given to the right patient by the right route, in the right dose, at the right time.

A BCMA system typically consists of scanners (wired or wireless) used to read bar codes on patient identification (ID) bracelets and medication packages. System users typically scan their own ID badges to access the system, get the necessary medications, verify medication labels against the medication administration record (MAR), administer the medications, and document the administration. If the system detects a discrepancy anywhere in the process, an alert will be given. (Koppel et al.)

This technology is endorsed by many professional and regulatory organizations as a safety tool. For example, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) states that “the purpose of such scanning is to ensure that drug products distributed, deployed to intermediate storage areas, or used in the preparation of patient doses are the correct products, are in-date, and have not been recalled” (ASHP “…Bar-Code Verification”).

Nearly 50% of U.S. hospitals now use BCMA systems; 43% use machine-readable codes for restocking automated dispensing cabinets, and 12% use bar-code verification for the preparation of intravenous medications (U.S. FDA “Bar Code”). BCMA systems are also effective at capturing medication administration data, as well as reducing near misses and errors in long-term care settings. (Szczepura...

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