How Barcodes Are Making Hospitals In The UK Safer And More Efficient

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By 2020, the NHS wants every patient to have an individual barcode to make sure people get the right medication and treatment while also increasing hospital efficiency and reducing paper use. To achieve that lofty goal, the agency is implementing GS1 barcode standards across its hospitals.

The adoption of barcode technology is gaining widespread support because the move is seen as beneficial for patients and their safety. “I’ve had a long standing interest in patient safety, and I think the idea of barcoding is a tremendous possibility.” said Professor Terence Stephenson, Chair of the General Medical Council.

The GS1 standards combined with barcode scanners and an effective stock management system can also provide massive savings for the NHS. “The value of adopting GS1 for the NHS and for the wider health service? Conservatively, I’m going to go for £500 million to £1 billion a year.” according to Pat Mills, Commercial Director, Department of Health.

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It isn’t just the system as a whole that benefits from barcodes. Individual hospitals can improve patient care and save an average of £3 million each year, according to an independent report for the Department of Health by Lord Carter of Coles.

To understand how barcode implementation can help the broader system, there are currently, “Demonstrator Sites” that are receiving Department of Health funding. These sites are testing how barcode technology can be implemented in specific processes and areas, like surgical theatres and pediatric hospitals, to improve safety and efficiency.

Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (DTH), is one of the demonstrator sites, and has seen significant benefits from adopting a barcode system. The hospital gets around 625,000 visits a year and has 1,159 beds in 59 wards, and 35 surgical theatres.

“When these 35 theatres were first built, it was anticipated that they would be operating at 50% surplus, but we are now at full capacity,” Kevin Downs, director of finance and performance at DTH explained at the annual GS1 UK annual healthcare conference. “Unless we are able to improve efficiency in our theatres we will need another five to cope with the demand.”

Building more theatres wasn’t an option for the hospital. Instead, doctors and administrators put in place stock management best practices and implemented a barcode stock control solution using the GS1 standards to increase safety and efficiency.

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The system DTH put in place used patient wristbands with unique barcodes. This was connected to a system so that a scan of the bracelet allowed doctors and nurses to see what medications and treatments the patient had or needed. Medication is also barcoded and scanned when given to a patient, so it can be added to a live database.

Barcodes also help the hospital track and understand how procedures are done and what resources are used. Instruments used can be scanned, as can the badges of staff who are involved in a procedure. All of this data can be captured without the risk of human error and compiled in a central tracking system that updates in real-time.

“The data captured can span the length of a six page document for one procedure – the time saving achieved through this system, compared to manually recording this information, is significant…It takes just seconds, through barcode scanning,” said Downs.

DTH isn’t the only hospital using barcodes to improve its stock management. The Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) was founded in 1852 as the UK’s first pediatric hospital. It serves over 150,000 patients and many have rare and complex conditions. As an NHS Trust, the hospital has been exploring ways barcode technology could improve safety and efficiency.

The cardiac catheterisation laboratory at GOSH utilizes high-cost consumables on a daily basis, making it necessary for the lab to focus on accountability and reducing costs. To be able to achieve the efficiency needed. GOSH sought a way to computerize stock, “in order to reduce wastage of expired stock and to supply accurate costing for each procedure to commissioners that pay for GOSH services.”


Related Article: Reduce The Cost Of Human Error With Scanning Barcodes

Following the guidelines put in place by the NHS, GOSH implemented a barcode based inventory management system called Wasp Inventory Control. The hospital quickly but in place a barcode based stock management system and used a Wasp handheld device for mobile scanning.

The lab’s stock was categorized into logical, manageable sections and a consistent nomenclature for item descriptions was developed. The items were entered into the Wasp system and placed in a folder containing the barcodes for individual items that make up a “kit” that might be used in a procedure. Using the mobile scanner, items can be taken out quickly and the database is updated about what items are being used and what needs to be replaced.

From a billing perspective, the new system makes it very easy to understand what stock is used in what procedure and on which patient. This makes it easy to create reports that explain, total cost of consumables used per month and per year, average cost of certain procedures, and total value of items in stock.

As one lab representative explained, “The Wasp system is flexible and provides a good value for our money. It is an efficient stock control solution in a clinical environment.”

Barcodes are quickly becoming one of the most important and efficient ways a hospital can increase safety and decrease waste.

Quick Tip Stock Management Best Practices For Hospitals

  1. Use patient wristband barcodes to identify patients and ensure they get the proper medication and procedures
  2. Barcode all medications
  3. Use barcode systems to manage hospital items and consumables to track their use in procedures
  4. Use barcode scanners to eliminate human error and increase speed
  5. Make sure all the data is captured in a central, database that updates in real-time
  6. Use a system that can produce customized reports on inventory use and help forecast future needs
Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter
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