In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a new rule requiring most prescription and some over-the-counter pharmaceutical products to carry bar codes down to the level of individual doses, with the intent of reducing the number of medication errors. Despite these regulatory changes in the United States, Health Canada has not yet adopted any mandatory bar-coding of drugs.
To evaluate the feasibility of using commercial bar codes for receipt and preparation of drug products and to evaluate the readability of the bar codes printed on various levels of drug packaging.
This cross-sectional observational pilot study was conducted in the Pharmacy Department of a Canadian mother–child university hospital centre in July 2010. For the purposes of the study, research drugs and cytotoxic drugs in various storage areas, as well as locally compounded medications with bar codes generated in house, were excluded. For all other drug products, the presence or absence of bar codes was documented for each level of packaging, along with the trade and generic names, content (i.e., drug product), quantity of doses or level of packaging, therapeutic class (if applicable), type of bar code (1- or 2-dimensional symbology), alphanumeric value contained in the bar code, standard of reference used to generate the alphanumeric value (Universal Product Code [UPC], Global Trade Item Number [GTIN], or unknown), and readability of the bar codes by 2 scanners.
Only 33 (1.9%) of the 1734 products evaluated had no bar codes on any level of packaging. Of the 2875 levels of packaging evaluated, 2021 (70.3%) had at least one bar code. Of the 2384 bar codes evaluated, 2353 (98.7%) were linear (1-dimensional) and 31 (1.3%) were 2-dimensional. Well over three-quarters (2112 or 88.6%) of the evaluated bar codes were readable by at least 1 of the 2 scanners used in the study.
On the basis of these results, bar-coding could be used for receipt of 80.9% of the drug products at this Canadian hospital and for the preparation and dispensing of 70.1% of the products.