The Department of Health has announced a pilot scheme that has just reported its first results using barcode technology. The £12m scheme which started in 2016 has been used to track patients and improve asset management through the hospital system.
Use of barcode technology (GS1) has been common practice in most major industries and transformed the retail sector as an effective way for companies to identify and track their assets and provide an accurate digital audit trail for stock, equipment and movements between sites. The difference for healthcare is that this ensures integrated and agnostic patient-centric care provision, focusing not on short term activity targets, but long term patient outcomes. This was a central theme in the Department of Health’s e-Procurement strategy in April 2014 and with today’s stretched NHS, connecting patient safety, identification of a person, product, place and administrator, creates truth, greater accuracy and ultimately accountability – and comes not a moment too soon.
The barcodes are being placed on wristbands of patients on entering hospital and used variously on breast implants, replacement hips, medical and surgical tools and pharmaceuticals etc. to track treatment and staff administering the treatment.
The pilot scheme which has been running initially at Salisbury, Derby, Leeds, Cornwall, North Tees and Plymouth is reported to be showing early signs of impact, with reductions in waste, effective management of health stocks and reduced staff time trying to locate medical supplies on shift, thereby freeing them up to spend more time with patients.
By using barcodes, it will also help with remediation should any faults develop in future years. For example, a screw used in a knee operation would be traceable and details, such as when it was used and the surgeon who carried out the procedure, could be found quickly and easily.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes this could help save the NHS over £1bn over the next seven years. In an example of stock recall, back in 2012, breast implants made by French firm Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) were found to have double the rupture rate, affecting roughly 300,000 women globally and 47,000 in the UK. Had this barcode system been in place at the time, tracing those patients to make the necessary remedial checks on their wellbeing would have been simpler, potentially less costly and less stressful for those involved had early intervention been possible.