Beam Me Up!

Added on Nov 13, 2015


Healthcare Safety

My local supermarket recently added a pretty cool feature: You pick-up a barcode reader when you get your cart, scan and bag your items as you go through the store, then scan your barcode reader at the quick check-out kiosk which prints out your receipt. This is a huge time-saver – no more long lines at the check-out. Also, the scanner alerts you to coupons and store specials which can be a money-saver as well. While I love using the scanner, I do confess that I live in fear that I’ll forget to scan something in my cart and alarm bells will go off when I try to exit the store. But, in the spirit of total honesty, what I really like best about using the scanner is I feel like I’m in an episode of Star Trek with my phaser set to stun! I confess…I am a Trekkie.


Healthcare Safety tips

Barcoding has revolutionized the delivery of healthcare as well. In addition to inventory management, barcodes are now used in medication administration, processing laboratory samples, and for patient identification. But, so far, the results are mixed on whether barcoding has actually improved patient safety. One study reported a 71% decrease in medication errors (over a three-year period) following the implementation of barcoding and other point-of-care improvements.1 However, another study identified 15 different work-arounds due to thirty-one causes in medication administration barcoding. The work-arounds included out-and-out failures to scan the medication or the patient ID band, failures to get required second checks, scanning patient labels affixed to bed-rails, carts, etc. (instead of to actual patients), and pre-scanning medications before actual administration.2Like any technological improvement, barcoding is only effective when it is used and when it is used as intended. A horizontal reliability culture strategy is required to complement vertical safety tactics like barcoding. Without behavioral accountability, barcoding and other technology improvements aren’t worth the many dollars we’ve spent on them and won’t result in patient safety improvements.

Some questions to consider for technology enhancements in your organization:

  • 1. Are the new devices/processes being used as intended? How do you know?
  • 2. What are the barriers to proper use of the technology (doesn’t work as intended, takes time instead of saving it, malfunctions frequently, etc.)? Can those barriers be resolved?
  • 3. How can you use team coaching and speak up for safety to increase compliance with proper use of technology?


Better technology and human factors integration represent the final frontier in reaching ultimate safety and reliability in healthcare. But without a platform of behavioral reliability our chances of achieving that frontier are bleak at best.