Everything you need to know about Barcode technology in Healthcare

“Any sufficiently used advanced technology is equivalent to magic” as Sir Arthur C Clarke once said, healthcare is experiencing its new wave of revitalization by virtue of all the recent technological developments in the field. From computerized patient registries to robotic prosthesis, 3D bioprinting and magnetic resonance imaging, we have come a long way! This newness is going to keep transforming the industry in ways more than one. What does one realize on witnessing this huge transition? It’s beyond a certain level of human comprehension, isn’t it? We hear of drones delivering medical supplies, global biobank, or stem cell diabetes cure in the present day that leaves us dumbfounded.

The healthcare industry would be the last, we think of, in this context. But, have you ever thought of the wide range of possibilities it could have in healthcare?

What if I tell you that in all procedures, starting from the registration of a patient, their admission and all the steps they undergo, to picking up their medicine from the pharmacy, they use this technology?
We use barcodes to track every information possible related to this.

What is the history?

It was a hard time for barcodes in healthcare until 2000. In 2004, the Food and drug Administration (FDA) wanted to print barcodes on samples which could potentially avoid accidental delivery of counterfeit or expired medications to patients. Around the same time, a study in patient support and quality healthcare found that incorporating barcode technology will help to rule off errors by 82%.

From 2006, the FDA wanted to print barcodes on blood samples which would help in reducing major errors. A survey by Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society HIMSS in 2007 found the specimen systems as the number one priority for ruling off medical errors. In 2010, a study revealed that the technology reduces mortality by 20%.

How does this work?

At first, they affix a label on all the medications, medical products, records and specimen samples. The medical practitioners identify and scan these to track patient information. This helps them to keep a record of all the previous notes, their case history, consultations, admission process, medication and follow-ups. In short, they help to monitor the patient’s entire stay at the hospital.

Sometimes they administer barcode wristbands at the time of admission to the patients, thus keeping the records up to date. The next time the practitioners check the patient, they scan the barcode and obtain all the records, specimen samples, doctor’s notes and medicine details needed. Every time the patient takes a new medication, this updates the already existing record with the dosage and timing. Thus, barcodes help in keeping track of the records in the safest way possible.

What are the perks of barcode technology in healthcare?

Efficient patient tracking

As aforementioned, barcodes track the details of the patients and aid in updating them further. This hugely reduces the risk of misinformation or errors in treatments later. Also, it tracks the drugs from manufacturers, and thus no faulty ones will reach the distributors. They get access to the laboratory records of the patient, complete details from the time of admission, treatment and drug history. The nurses get the unique barcode linked to patients and help them with their medication cycle.

Patient safety

Patient wristband for efficient tracking and management in healthcare

This technology has been tremendously helping in improving patient safety. When a new patient with a wristband gets a new medication from the doctor, the nurse scans the same with the band, and they record the information immediately. This also makes sure that the right patient gets the right advised treatment by the doctor and that there are no errors in that department. This guarantees good patient safety and management.

Inventory management

These aid in keeping track of the materials, machinery and equipment needed. Hence, this accelerates the order and reorder of items that are required. The system automatically reorders the required products such as surgical instruments and other equipment.

Team identification

It’s important to know the team that monitors a patient. The team includes the main doctor, the main nurse, a representative from pharmacy, a member, each from the quality, legal and finance department. This gives quality treatment and experience for the patient. This way, you can get the information of a device administered on the patient and the details of who did it.

Adaptable and convenient

They administer the scanner easily. It is always available and handy near a patient’s bed, so there is no hurdle for the doctors or the patients to face at the time of admission. Every patient receives a newly generated unique barcode without any halt.

What are the challenges?

Despite all the perks that it gives, barcode technology adoption in healthcare across the world has yet to meet more expectations in the field. In 2007, the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP)’s national survey found that only 24.1 % of hospitals have been successfully using barcode medication administration (BCMA) systems. The survey says that 23.3% have no plans for adoption. Last year’s survey reported that 74% are planning for purchase. The increase in the interest level indicates their belief in the success stories from various other hospitals. The challenges faced in the appropriate adoption of barcode technology in healthcare are as follows:

  1. Unsafe practice: If barcode labels for unique wristbands are available, there are chances that some operators may get tempted to use them in the wrong way. Thus, if a nurse places a label on another patient, it could lead to severe consequences such as inappropriate treatment. Operators might scan a label that is not on the patient’s wristband. In other cases, operators may wrongly enter details or are provoked to do so. This apparently gives way to unethical practice.
  2. Proper training: It is extremely important to train everyone who comes in contact with the bands about its limitations. Every unique identifier should get a unique label, and they must know what could happen if given otherwise. When they scan a new document, the resolution has to be 300 dpi. This brings good data quality. It is important to impart this knowledge thoroughly.
  3. Incorrect scans or no scan: If the patient uses the bands roughly and carelessly, it may cause wear and tear. When scanning poor quality labels, there is a chance that the scanner might misread the barcode. Printer alignment issues and low toning are also shortcomings of the same. There are also cases where the operator has to enter the specimen number rather than a patients’ medical record details but wrongly scans the identification label. This leads to clerical errors.


Studies have proved that barcode technology is very mature, reliable and convenient. They remark that radiofrequency identifiers will be the next competition for them in spite of being cheaper than the former. As much as we use it in the other industries for tracking, authentication and inventory, let’s hope that it opens more doors in healthcare too. We also use them in specimen collection and labs to monitor the results and update the same over time. The significant reduction in medical errors by 41%, the instant notification alerts, new labelling procedures, recording and tracking systems all indicate the urgent need for this technology. Nurses and doctors get immediate notification on their mobile devices if a patient’s medicine is due. They send alerts when a wrong medicine is given. This makes the job all the easier and more pleasant. Well, at the end of the day, safety is the key!

Technowave is an innovative solutions provider which addresses your needs in businesses such as tracking, automation and inventory using barcode/RFID technology. Our easyTRACK Asset tracking and easyTRACK Inventory tracking are two of those solutions which can be blended into healthcare environments. They come as complete packages, waiting to be integrated, to help enhance the capabilities of your enterprise.

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