Use Bar Codes to Identify Medications

​Bar codes and bar-code readers are great tools for verifying information about a drug before it is dispensed or administered to a patient. In order to work most effectively, each individual dose must have a unique bar code on its packaging identifying the drug and the amount of the dose. Of course, staff should also scan the bar code on the patient identification band or device and the staff identification badge to make sure that a qualified person is dispensing or administering the dose to the right patient as well. A quick scan with a hand-held bar-code reader can alert pharmacy staff to a potential dispensing error or alert nursing staff to a potential administration error. This allows action to be taken before the error reaches the patient and causes an adverse drug event.



  • Allow over-rides of the bar coding to ensure that medication administration is not prevented, but limit the number of over-rides available.
  • Dispense all medications in ready-to-use single doses and place a unique bar code on each one.
  • Record information about every alert triggered by a bar code that prevented an error. These "near misses" may alert your organization to other process issues that need to be addressed.
  • Don’t use information in a punitive way, such as tracking the number of errors made by individual staff members and using that error record in performance reviews. But do use the information to identify educational needs.


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