Using bar-code technology with eMAR reduces medication administration and transcription errors

Research Activities, July 2010, No. 359

Using bar-code technology with an electronic medication administration record (eMAR) substantially reduces transcription and medication administration errors, as well as potential drug-related adverse events, concludes a new study funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS14053). Bar-code eMAR is a combination of technologies that ensures that the correct medication is administered in the correct dose at the correct time to the correct patient. When nurses use this combination of technologies, medication orders appear electronically in a patient's chart after pharmacist approval. Alerts are sent to nurses electronically if a patient's medication is overdue. Before administering medication, nurses are required to scan the bar codes on the patient's wristband and then on the medication. If the two don't match the approved medication order, or it is not time for the patient's next dose, a warning is issued.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston compared 6,723 medication administrations on hospital units before bar-code eMAR was introduced with 7,318 medication administrations after bar-code eMAR was introduced. Having bar-code eMAR technologies in place was associated with reductions in errors related to the timing of medications, such as giving a medicine at the wrong time, and nontiming medication administration, such as giving a patient the wrong dose.

The researchers documented a 41 percent reduction in nontiming administration errors and a 51 percent reduction in potential drug-related adverse events associated with this type of error. Errors in the timing of medication administration, meaning a patient was given medication an hour or more off schedule, fell by 27 percent. No transcription errors or potential drug-related adverse events related to this type of error occurred. The findings have important implications because bar-code eMAR technology is being considered as a 2013 criterion for meaningful use of health information technology under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

More details are in "Effect of bar-code technology on the safety of medication administration," by Eric G. Poon, M.D., M.P.H., Carol A. Keohane, B.S.N., R.N., Catherine S. Yoon, M.S., and others in the May 6, 2010, New England Journal of Medicine 362(18), pp. 1698-1707.

Current as of July 2010
Internet Citation: Using bar-code technology with eMAR reduces medication administration and transcription errors: Research Activities, July 2010, No. 359. July 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.