Effect of Barcode-Assisted Medication Administration on Medication Errors

Table of Contents

Medication errors are a burden for hospitalized patients being a costly and frequent problem. Therefore, many attempts are made to reduce the incidence of medication errors and thus improve patient outcomes and the quality of care that are the major concerns of the contemporary health care system. One of the opportunities to achieve these goals is the use of information systems, such as Bar Code Medication Administration. Bar Code Medication Administration (BCMA) is a system based on the use of bar codes. Its purpose is to prevent medication errors within different healthcare settings. This issue is critical for health care due to its potential to improve the quality of care as a whole and the safety of medication administration in particular. The topic is also important for nursing because it allows them to spend less time on medication-related activities and thus relieving more time on other necessary activities in the unit. On the whole, bar code medication administration facilitates nursing workflow. This paper provides examples of bar code medication administration and describes a personal experience of this system’s application.

Example of Bar Code Medication Administration

One of the settings where BCMA can be successfully implemented is an emergency department. Still, while BCMA is expected to be beneficial for emergency care, it is not a routine system that is broadly applied in these departments. Bonkowski et al. (2013) investigate the effect that BCMA has on emergency department medication errors. The study compared the rate of medication errors before and after BCMA implementation integrated into electronic medical records used in the department. The study analyzed 996 pre-BCMA and 982 post-BCMA errors related to wrong-dose administration, which made up 66.7% of all errors included in the analysis (Bonkowski et al., 2013). The initial medical administration error rate of 6.3% decreased by 1.2% after BCMA implementation in the conditions of the emergency department. As for the error type, the number of wrong dose errors decreased by 90.4%, while medication administration’s without physician orders decreased by 72.4% (Bonkowski et al., 2013). Therefore, the experience of the emergency department involved in research provides evidence of the benefits that can be achieved due to the use of the BCMA.

The positive effect of bar code technology application on medication accuracy rates is investigated by Seibert, Maddox, Flynn, and Williams (2014). The researchers have discovered the medication administration accuracy rates in the sample of two community hospitals. The comparison during the three phases of the experiment revealed a significant increase in the overall accuracy rate at medical-surgical, telemetry, and rehabilitation units. Thus, Seibert et al. (2014) provide evidence to support the positive effect of BCMA implementation at hospitals.

There are diverse opportunities for integrating BCMA in the process of care. The studies that are mentioned above use BCMA together with electronic medical records and electronic medication administration records. Both systems provide data for analysis and allow evaluating patient outcomes. Harrington, Clyne, Fuchs, Hardison, and Johnson (2013) suggest assessing the BCMA use in nursing practice with the help of an evidence-based checklist. The study provides evidence of the benefits that BCMA has for different units, including the reduction of medication errors and adverse effects on patients as well as an increase in patient safety (Harrington et al., 2013). Consequently, the BCMA is a useful information system that has a positive impact on health care delivery.

Personal Experience

My experience of the BCMA application can be described as generally positive. One of the units of a community hospital where I practiced used this system together with an electronic health record and the clinical decision support system. The major tasks of the system were to validate and document medications electronically to avoid medication errors due to a human factor. The essence of the system was encoding the information about medications in bar codes. At the time I worked there, the system was already successfully implemented and resulted in the reduction of medication errors. The evident positive aspect of BCMA application was a reduction of time spent on medication administration. A negative aspect included the necessity to learn how to work with the system, which is specific for every unit and thus should be studied carefully. Still, this negative aspect could have been improved by appointing an experienced nurse to teach a new staff member to manage the BCMA system in the unit.


On the whole, Bar Code Medication Administration is a beneficial information system that can be applied in different healthcare settings. It has a positive impact on healthcare as a whole and nursing in particular. Thus, the BCMA is useful for nurses because it contributes to saving time spent on medication-related activities and allows relieving time for other duties that nurses have in the unit. Generally, BCMA is considered a facilitator of nursing workflow. As for health care, on the whole, BCMA improves the quality of care in units and increases the safety of medication administration. The system can be integrated into electronic health records and used together with the electronic medication administration record. Consequently, BCMA can be recommended for application in diverse care settings to increase the quality of care and improve patient outcomes.


Bonkowski, J., Carnes, C., Melucci, J., Mirtallo, J., Prier, B., Reichert, E., … Weber, R. (2013). Effect of barcode-assisted medication administration on emergency department medication errors. Academic Emergency Medicine, 20(8), 801-806. Web.

Harrington, L., Clyne, K., Fuchs, M., Hardison, V., & Johnson, C. (2013). Evaluation of the use of bar-code medication administration in nursing practice using an evidence-based checklist. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 43(11), 611-617. Web.

Seibert, H., Maddox, R., Flynn, E., & Williams, C. (2014). Effect of barcode technology with electronic medication administration record on medication accuracy rates. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 71(3), 209-218. Web.

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