Yet another study has come out to document the tremendous benefits that can be gained via strategic automation of clinical care. In this case, the great folks at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston last week published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that analyzed “The Effects of Bar-Code Technology on the Safety of Medication Administration.” In other words, the classic closed-loop medication administration involving an eMAR (electronic medication administration record), a full loop of barcoding across the meds administration process, and of course, some level of data analysis to determine the impact of going fully live with a barcoding-facilitated eMAR.
Not surprisingly, the researchers at Brigham & Women’s found that barcode-based eMAR implementation made a huge difference in medication administration errors. In their study, they found that those units that didn’t use barcode-based eMAR saw a medication administration error rate of 11.5 percent, while those that did use the system recorded an error rate of 6.8 percent—a 41.4 percent relative reduction in errors. And the rate of potential adverse drug events (other than those associated with timing errors) fell from a rate of 3.1 percent without barcoded eMAR to 1.6 percent with its use, representing a 50.8 percent relative reduction.
It’s not surprising that this study was undertaken by researchers at Brigham & Women’s, which has long been a pioneer in both automation-facilitated patient safety improvement initiatives and also in the leveraging of clinical data to support studies that in turn promote improved patient safety and care quality, both internally and on behalf of the industry. I interviewed clinician and IT leaders from Brigham & Women’s for both of my books; and they are true industry leaders, people who are helping to move the dial forward towards where the healthcare industry needs to go in the near and long-term future.
And though nothing in the NEJM study was wildly surprising, that is definitely not the point; the point is that we need more studies like the Brigham & Women’s study to continue to cement the case that the smart leveraging of clinical IT for patient safety and care quality improvement really makes a difference, a critical difference if you are among the patients whose potentially devastating medication administration error is averted because of the intelligent application of technology to an area of patient care that has always been fraught with dangers.