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Barcode Requirements on Medications

In February 2005, the FDA will issue regulations that will require each and every medication distributed to hospitals be labeled with a barcode. This will include "blister packed" medications, which will be individually marked with a product code suitable for scanning at the patient's room when the medication is dispensed.

The FDA is targeting the more than 7,000 deaths that occur each year by patients taking the wrong medicine. The product barcodes are meant to make the ability to record medication dispensing easier for hospitals. The process would have the nurse scan a patient wrist band, then scan the medication. A database system would then look up the medication number in a database, cross reference the patient's records to validate the prescription of that drug and then sound an alarm in the scanner if the medication was not prescribed.

Only about 125 of the nation's more than five thousand hospitals currently use barcode systems now, in part because less than 40 percent of their medications come with barcode affixed. To rectify this problem, both Pfizer and Abbot Labs have launched product coding intitatives. The FDA doesn't plan to require the use of the barcodes, but has specified that the barcodes must be recognized by common, low cost barcode scanners.

Although the ideal would be for the medication application to read RFID chips embedded in both the wrist back on medication, tag costs are just too prohibitive to make this alternative a possibility in the cost-conscious hospital sector.