DH backs supermarket-style barcodes for tracking patient information

DH recommends GS1 UK standards to drive adoption of automatic identification and data capture systems

The Department of Health (DH) is backing the use of barcoding and tracking technology to solve the problem hospitals face locating and accessing patient information.

New guidelines have been published using standards from independent supply chain standards and solutions organisation, GS1 UK, in an effort to drive the widespread adoption of Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) technology in the NHS.

The maintenance of complete and accurate medical records is a legal requirement for healthcare providers and as these contain confidential information, it is crucial trusts know where they are at all times and can access them immediately when needed.

However, many medical practitioners often face difficulties and delays finding case notes and medical information due to the slow manual processes for document retrieval and document filing, both of which can be addressed through the use of an AIDC track and trace system.

AIDC uses bar codes, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and other machine-readable codes in order to quickly and accurately identify a person, item or process. The GS1 standard provides the specification and implementation guidance for achieving accurate AIDC using GS1 International code numbering standards.

The technology has been in use for decades in other sectors, in particular the retail industry, where barcodes on products have been used to improve supply chain efficiency, drive down costs and provide retailers with information about shopping habits. In the health sector, AIDC has the potential to support patient safety, particularly through medicine management and device and file tracking activities.

"Our initial guidelines show huge benefits for hospitals,” said Neil Lawrence, AIDC lead at the Department of Health.

A pilot rollout at the Royal Bolton Hospital identified the potential to cut down the time spent looking for misfiles by 80% as well as significantly reducing lost revenue due to coding time-outs.

Lawrence said: “By replacing manual processing of returned records with an automated system, hospitals could save time and money. Furthermore, by automating location tracking throughout the hospital it could save even larger amounts. Benefits like these will enable hospitals to meet their requirements of reducing costs and ultimately improving patient safety.”

Roger Lamb, health manager at GS1 UK, added: “There is enormous potential in using GS1 standards to deliver significant cost savings to the NHS and improving patient safety. GS1 standards are essential in helping track and trace medical records, equipment and patients to ensure the right products are available at the right time in the right place.”

The new DH guidelines show potential advantages of barcoding and similar technologies as including fewer medication errors, a reduced risk of wrong site surgery, the ability to accurately track and trace all surgical instruments and much better hospital record keeping.

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