VHA taps CareFusion for bar code software

FDA Barcode Medication Rule

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The Veterans Health Administration has tapped CareFusion to provide a new suite of bar code medication software to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 171 medical centers and 500 outpatient clinics.

Kenneth Tighe, CareFusion’s chief executive officer, said the deal is the "biggest bar code medication deployment we know of" in the country.

Tighe said the Bar Code Expansion project will increase the capabilities of the VA’s Bar Code Medication Administration (BCMA) program, which has been installed in all VA medical centers since 1999. BCMA was set up to reduce medication errors by applying bar codes to prescriptions, patients’ wristbands and nurses’ ID badges.

When nurses give a patient a prescription, they scan bar codes on their badges, the drug bottle and the patient’s wristband. Via a Wi-Fi network, the scanners send information to a central database, which correlates the scanned information to ensure that patients receive appropriate drugs from health care providers.

The new CareFusion software extends cross-checking beyond medications to software modules, which verify and label lab specimens, certified the details of blood intended for transfusions, and document vital signs and patient care information, Tighe said. CareFusion will also provide the VA with an updated BCMA system that will provide allergy warnings and safety alerts.

The VA used Wi-Fi-equipped laptop computers on carts wheeled from room to room in a hospital to support BCMA, but the CareFusion software can also run on more mobile and portable handheld computers, Tighe said.

Symbol Technologies will supply the handheld computers to the VA for the Bar Code Expansion, while Zebra Technologies will supply bar code printers, he said. Tighe declined to say how much the deal with the department is worth.

The VA is ahead of many private-sector hospitals in the country, which are just starting to create bar code medication systems, Tighe said. In April 2005, a Food and Drug Administration rule enacted in 2004 will require all pharmaceutical manufacturers to apply bar codes to prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

When the FDA made the rule, the agency said it would lead to widespread installation of bar code medication systems in hospitals nationwide.

When that rule was publicized in February 2004, Tommy Thompson then-secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said "bar codes can help doctors, nurses and hospitals make sure that they give their patients the right drugs at the appropriate dosage.”

"By giving health care providers a way to check medications and dosages quickly, we create an opportunity to reduce the risks of medication errors that can seriously harm patients," Thompson added.

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