Operating a hospital requires managing an overwhelming number of elements, from dispensing medication and managing inventory to admitting, treating, and discharging patients.

Tracking all of these different elements is beyond any one person’s ability. Fortunately, technology exists to accomplish this task efficiently and affordably. Barcode scanning is readily available and easy to implement in a hospital’s daily operations. 

A Brief Overview of Barcode Technology

Despite how ubiquitous barcodes are in our everyday lives, few people understand how they actually work. At its most basic, a barcode system requires three elements: the barcode itself attached to or printed on an object, a scanner that is either handheld or built into a larger device, and a software program that can process the information contained within the barcode.

A barcode translates binary code into the lines of black on a white background that you’ve probably seen on every product you’ve ever purchased. When a barcode scanner shines an incandescent light or laser beam over the code, it detects how much light is reflected back at it. The black sections of the barcode reflect less light than the white sections, which creates the 1’s and 0’s of binary code. A single barcode can contain 20 characters worth of information.

An inventory tracking program can use this information to track the movement of anything the barcode is attached to. In a retail environment, this is done at the point of sale to tell the store the item has left its inventory, and the customer must be charged an appropriate price (which the inventory software will tell them). 

Applications of Barcode Scanning In Healthcare

When it comes to healthcare, correctly identifying and tracking assets can be just as important as an accurate diagnosis regarding a patient’s health. Certain types of medication can have severe side effects if administered incorrectly, making it critical that only the intended patients receive them. In other areas of a hospital’s operations, staff can use barcodes to track assets and equipment, ensuring the healthcare providers are always aware of what tools are available and where. 

Medication Administration

Whenever providers dispense medication, they must first scan the barcode on the bottle’s label and check with the patient’s EMR on their medical computer to double-check it is the correct medication. This helps prevent giving patients the wrong medicine or issuing an incorrect dosage. 

Patient Identification

Many hospitals mandate that patients wear an ID bracelet or wristband from the time they are admitted to the point they are discharged. By printing a barcode onto this bracelet, a provider can later scan it to immediately pull up that patient’s medical records rather than having to search for them manually and potentially access the wrong files. 

Blood and Tissue Tracking

One of the most significant users of barcodes in healthcare is blood banks. The FDA mandates that all blood and blood components (such as plasma, red blood cells, etc.) have barcodes containing information such as blood type, the donor’s identification number, and the source of the blood. This helps ensure patients are not given an incorrect blood type during a transfusion. 

Similar practices are used for other donor tissue types, such as donor organs and skin grafts. Doing so speeds up the transportation process and ensures compatibility between the donor and the recipient, two factors that are critical for preventing rejection of the donor tissue. 

Medical Asset Tracking

Tracking the assets and tools a hospital’s staff uses is another place barcodes can make a difference. Before surgery, medical teams must prepare and sterilize instruments so that they can be used safely. By applying barcodes to these instruments and scanning them as they are prepared, technicians can cross-reference with a count sheet to ensure they are preparing the correct tools. 

Asset tracking is also necessary for everything from IV stands to bandages, letting a hospital’s staff know what is being used where, and when they’re close to running out of consumable items and need to order replacements. This enables providers to focus more on delivering effective care than tracking down tools. 

Benefits of Barcode Scanning in Healthcare

By implementing barcode scanning in their daily routines, healthcare providers can reap numerous benefits, including:

Enhanced Patient Safety

Barcode scanning enhances patient safety by allowing providers to reference a patient’s records and assigned medication immediately. Doing so ensures that patients only receive the medication they are supposed to, preventing medical errors from occurring. Scanning patient wristbands also allows providers to immediately access all prior notes written about the patient and their condition, empowering providers with more information. 

Streamlined Workflow and Efficiency

Implementing barcode scanning greatly reduces the bureaucratic workload on providers. Rather than digging through cabinets of files for patient records, a provider can simply scan the patient’s ID bracelet and immediately pull up the necessary information on that individual. By implementing barcodes on equipment, they can also track their tools more easily. Both of these practices let providers spend more time treating patients. 

Reduction of Wastage or Improper Use

Preventing wastage is a critical concern for anyone who manages a large inventory of consumable or perishable items. Scanning barcodes and referencing an inventory tracking system alerts staff when certain items are close to expiring, should be used soon, or when stocks of consumables are close to being depleted. Requiring staff to scan and sign out certain items also helps prevent their illegal misuse, such as selling narcotics for illicit purposes. 

Barcode Implementation Considerations

The benefits of implementing barcode scanning systems into your healthcare group’s operations are clear. However, you will need to address some considerations before you start using them.

  • Integration with Existing Systems: If you already use EMR or digital inventory management systems, check if they can integrate barcode scanning capabilities. 
  • Staff Training and Adoption: Your staff will need proper training to adopt and effectively use barcode scanners, printers, and other related tools. Thankfully, the prevalence of barcodes in day-to-day life makes this step easier than other new tools. 
  • Cost: Implementing any new piece of technology will come with a price. Before purchasing equipment for barcode scanning, make sure your budget can bear the cost. 
  • Data Security and Privacy Concerns: Any device that reads barcodes containing or linking to patient data must include stringent security measures, such as Imprivata encryption and single sign-on credentials. 
  • Scalability and Customization: When shopping for a hardware manufacturer and partner, it’s critical to make sure that their manufacturing capacity can support your demand and that they can include any customizations you may require. 

Computers with Integrated Barcode Scanners

If your hospital or healthcare group wants to use barcode scanners in your day-to-day operations, consider computers with integrated scanners from Cybernet Manufacturing. Our PCs and tablets with scanners make implementing barcode technology effortless while still coming with the full range of features and certifications required by the healthcare field. Contact us today – our team would be more than happy to explain how our devices can help prevent medical errors and streamline workflows.

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