Barcoding Babies

Bar-Coding Babies For Patient Safety

Stores use bar codes to scan merchandise, but bar codes aren’t just for shopping any more. They are also playing an increasingly important role in hospitals.

In fact, OU MEDICAL CENTER uses bar coded wrist bands as part of an elaborate electronic system designed to help ensure patients get the right medications at the right time and in the right formulations. Now, OU MEDICAL CENTER is also pioneering a brand new wrist band designed for the tiniest newborns in hopes of further enhancing patient safety.

Takoda Stumblingbear of Chickasha recently became one of the first infants in the nation to test the new bar coded identification band. The band is specifically designed for babies born prematurely, like Takoda.

“The nurses showed me what the new bracelets looked and how they identify with the mother and the baby,” said D’Anna Stumblingbear, Takoda’s mother. “So I was really happy.”

The bar coded portion of the band is also part of the hospitals’ Electronic Medication Administration System. That system utilizes a scanner, similar to those in stores, to read a patient’s bar code. The scanner is linked to a computer that checks to make sure the medication is the right medication for the patient and being administered at the appropriate time, in the appropriate dosage. The computer also checks against a host of databases in an effort to prevent any interactions between drugs and to check for medication allergies.

OU MEDICAL CENTER’s parent company, Hospital Corporation of America or HCA, is introducing the medication scanning system in all of its hospitals.

“It’s important to HCA because last year we gave 51 million doses using this technology and we prevented over a million errors,” said Dr. Frank Houser, HCA Medical Director. “That would indicate there is almost a two percent error rate in hospitals that don’t use this system. We believe it is clearly important for our future, for our children, our newborns to be protected the same way as our adults.”

However, HCA found the bar coded bands used so effectively in adult patients did not translate well in its tiniest patients. In the neo-natal intensive care unit, the bands were often too big for the tiny babies, too abrasive for their very sensitive skin and often in the way.

“It wouldn’t be long before we in the nursery would remove them either to start an IV or to 

protect the baby’s skin,” explained Tina Launer, RN, a neonatal nurse with OU Medical Center.

So HCA decided to commission two of its vendors to design a new band that would work for these tiny babies. They decided to test the new band in the neonatal intensive care unit at OU MEDICAL CENTER. The new band design features a soft material, a bar coded tag and a Velcro fastening system.

“I love it so far,”said OU Medical Center nurse Kristin Glover of the design “It’s less damaging to the skin and you don’t have to worry about losing it, taping it to the bedside. There’s always identification on the baby and so it’s safer.”

HCA estimates there are some 220-thousand babies born each year in its 125 obstetrics units nationwide. This year, Rayshonda Farria’s son Jackson is one of them.

Born nine weeks early and weighing only two and a half pounds at birth, Jackson was immediately moved into the neonatal intensive care unit at OU MEDICAL CENTER. His mother said he has already gained almost a pound during his stay there and thanks to the design of the new identification band design, his own personal bar code has been able to grow with him.

“It definitely gives you peace of mind to let you know they will always be able to identify the baby and if anything were to go wrong, they’d know exactly what baby it was,” Farria said. “It really does give you peace of mind.”

The nurses like to too.

“The consistency is the main part of it,” said Launer, “just to make sure you always have something to identify the baby to make sure you are giving the right medication. And the bar code, if there are two babies with the same name, it won’t allow you to give the wrong medication to a patient.”

HCA just concluded the pilot program at OU MEDICAL CENTER testing the effectiveness of the new identification system on babies in the neonatal care unit. The results are now being evaluated.

“Our intent is to use this pilot as a first step to make sure we have all the pieces right to the puzzle,” Houser said. “Then we’ll roll it out to protect all babies throughout our hospitals throughout the country.”

He added the new identification system for babies could be rolled out in all of its obstetrics units nationwide by the end of the year.



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