Industry welcomes new standards for electronic patient wristbands

Guidance will increase patient safety

Patient wristbands will now carry an electronic barcode against which medication and treatment can be matched, reducing the opportunity for error

Suppliers are welcoming the introduction of national standards on the use of electronic patient wristbands across the NHS.

The recent publication of Information Standards Board (ISB) for Health and Social Care Standard 1077 will see every NHS patient in England given a wristband featuring an electronic barcode, which will help to improve safety, as well as improving patient management.

The standard defines how to encode the NHS-approved patient identifiers for identity bands into a two-dimensional barcode, namely the GS1 Data Matrix Symbol. It covers production, verification and printing rules for the electronic codes. From April this year all health trusts must have plans to ensure their systems comply with the new regulations, which will officially come into effect on 1 October 2013.

Launching the standard, an ISB spokesman said: “The purpose of this standard is to support the accurate, timely and, therefore, safer identification of NHS patients in England. It is a technology enabling standard and implementation will enable subsequent processes involving the patient and care provided to the patient (where these processes are also barcoded) to be automatically identified using Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) techniques, for example bed management, phlebotomy, theatre management, and medication administration. At this point, the full patient safety, cost and efficiency benefits of the standard will be realised.”

Welcoming the new move, Brian Lang of barcode and RFID technology company, SATO UK, said: “As a company that is involved in providing identification solutions to the healthcare industry in the UK, we welcome the guidance as it presents an opportunity to improve patient care through the use of advanced technology, making healthcare facilities as safe and error-free as possible.

“We have worked with individual hospitals to produce solutions that match their specific requirements, with the electronic barcode technology providing a greater volume of key data at the bedside. This new standard will ensure the right care is given to the right patients at the right time.”

Between February 2006 and January 2007 the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) received 24,382 reports of hospital patients being mismatched with their care plans, and more than 2,900 of these cases were thought to be directly related to the use of wristband identification.

Prior to the introduction of printed wristbands, a number of different styles and brands of wristband were used and most were handwritten and checked by eye, with the information displayed varying from ward to ward and hospital to hospital. In addition, up to three wristbands can currently be used per patient, further adding to the confusion and the potential for error.

Paul Brennan of supplier, Brenmoor, said: “It is about giving patients the right care. If you have a barcode on the patient you can match things like blood and medication before you give it to them. If you give a patient the wrong blood, there’s not much you can do except watch them die.”

An NPSA spokeswoman added: “There is increasing evidence to show that standardising elements of patient care, such as wristbands, contributes positively to patient safety.”

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