Confusion reigns over how much info is enough for barcodes

December 8, 2008

There is still confusion over the amount of information manufacturers should include on medication barcodes, and some are not in compliance with FDA rules on barcodes, according to a new preliminary study.

There is still confusion over the amount of informationmanufacturers should include on medication barcodes, and some arenot in compliance with FDA rules on barcodes, according to a newpreliminary study.

Ashley Dalton, PharmD, assistant clinical professor atthe University of California- San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacyand Pharmaceutical Services, shared results of the UCSD study.Dr. Dalton and other researchers set out more than two years agoto ensure that all UCSD's existing bar codes were correctlycross-referenced in the PhIS (Pharmacy Information System) drugmaster list. The researchers also wanted to identify drugs thatwere not available, unit-dose bar-coded and those with poorlyreadable barcodes, and implement a process to re-label orre-package drugs.

After scanning the top 300 unit-dose products (those thatwere most often ordered from UCSD's wholesaler) once a monthbetween February 2008, and August 2008, USDC researchers foundthat 17 percent of the products had at a least one bar codechange during the seven months.

In addition, researchers found that there was nostandardization in terms of barcode content, symbology orplacement. Nearly 17 percent of the barcodes contained at10-digit NDC (National Drug Code), while 72 percent had 12 digitsor greater. In addition, some contained both letters and numbers.Some barcodes had poor readability, according to Dalton.

"Putting more information than the NDC in barcodes isincreasing, and some manufacturers may not be in compliance," Dr.Dalton says.

Researchers also found that more than 2,700 barcodes werecross-referenced in the PhIS, and 9.8 percent of barcodes wereoverridden at the time of administration.

As a result, the UCSD School of Pharmacy andPharmaceutical Services wants to look into the economic impact ofthe barcode problems and find solutions for barcodes that are notscanned or are overridden by the nursing staff at the point ofadministration.

"We need a lot more research in this area, and Iencourage everyone to do your own studies," Dr. Daltonsays.