NHS introduces barcode technology used in aerospace and retail industries to improve patient safety

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Barcode technology used in major industries such as aerospace and retail is being brought to the NHS in England in a bid to revolutionise patient safety.

In an initiative spearheaded by the Department of Health, barcodes are being placed on replacement hips, medication and surgical tools.

The £12 million Department of Health ‘Scan4Safety’ project enables staff to track each patient through their hospital journey. Used in six pilots across the country, each barcode can be scanned to show exactly which member of staff administers treatment, at what time and where. 

Everything from a screw used in a knee operation or a breast implant that may develop a fault years later can be instantly traced with barcodes. Details such as when it was used and the surgeon who carried out the procedure can be tracked, helping to avoid the risks of patients being administered the wrong drugs, or surgery being performed on the wrong part of the body.

Early results from the six pilot sites in Derby, Leeds, Salisbury, Cornwall, North Tees and Plymouth suggest that the scheme has the potential to save lives and up to £1 billion for the NHS over seven years.

Tim Wells, Consultant Cardiologist at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The recent implementation of the Scan4Safety project in Cardiology provides us for the very first time with complete traceability of products such as implantable medical devices used with our patients. Knowledge is power – not only does this provide us with a level of data and insight that can be used to better challenge clinical practice and variation, helping us to reduce inefficiencies and improve patient experience and outcomes – more importantly it ultimately helps to safeguard our patients from avoidable harm. In the event of a product recall, we can now easily and quickly track an affected product to the right patient.”

The pilot sites reported that the world-leading scheme is reducing unnecessary waste, effectively managing medical stocks, as well as saving valuable staff time and giving the patient more information about their treatment.