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Press Release

Grocery Store Technology Could Save Lives in Nation's Hospitals

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists today urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require drug manufacturers to print bar codes on all drug packages, in an effort to increase patient safety in hospitals and health systems across the country.

In a letter to Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, ASHP stressed the immediate need for regulations requiring standardized machine-readable code on all drug product containers, including single-dose medication packages used in hospitals. ASHP has concluded that manufacturers will not add codes to all medication packages in the foreseeable future without a federal mandate.

"We are talking about the last line of defense against making a dangerous medication error," said Henri R. Manasse, Jr., Ph.D., Sc.D., ASHP Executive Vice President and CEO. "This is the same technology that grocery stores use to ensure that the correct price is charged for your soda and pretzels. It’s shameful that drug manufacturers are not universally employing bar codes to help protect the safety of patients."

The Society is a member of the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, which is expected today to release a white paper, "Promoting and Standardizing Bar Coding on Medication Packaging: Reducing Errors and Improving Care."

"When hospitals know that standardized bar coding will be required on medication packages, we believe that they will move quickly to have scanners ready at patients’ bedsides," Manasse remarked.

The benefits of bar-coding technology are well recognized. The 1999 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health Care System," notes that bar coding "is an effective remedy" for medication errors when used to make sure the right dose is administered to the right patient.

In addition to improving patient safety, bar coding would also improve the efficiency of drug product purchasing, storage, and distribution in hospitals, allowing more time for pharmacists to help counsel patients and monitor drug therapy regimens. "This can also play an important part in improving patient care," says Manasse. "Pharmacists’ direct involvement in patient care results in healthier patients." A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (July 21, 1999) found that preventable adverse drug events due to prescribing errors were reduced by 66 percent when a pharmacist was included on patient rounds in an intensive care unit.

ASHP is the 30,000-member national professional association that represents pharmacists who practice in hospitals, health maintenance organizations, long-term care facilities, home care, and other components of health care systems. ASHP, which has a long history of medication error prevention efforts, believes that the mission of pharmacists is to help people make the best use of medicines. Assisting pharmacists in fulfilling this mission is ASHP's primary objective. The Society has extensive publishing and educational programs designed to help members improve their delivery of pharmaceutical care, and it is the national accrediting organization for pharmacy residency and pharmacy technician training programs.