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Labeling in Health Care

In the medical world, all kinds of errors occur almost everyday. Medical errors can cause mere discomfort to the patient, severe reactions and side effects and sometimes patient's death. The reasons for these errors could range from human mistakes to complications arising from medical reactions, changes in the patient body etc. Healthcare professionals always learn and have to keep up with the latest developments in the medical field. Developments in new drugs, new medical devices and latest research in various diseases and cure.
Mistakes due to human error happen all the time. It is rightly said "to err is human". So human errors will occur no matter how hard we try. We can only try to prevent them by building appropriate error proofing mechanisms in the system. And labels can error proof human mistakes. More intelligent the label the more fool proof the system can be.
But first let's try to find out the types of human errors in the healthcare industry. Some commonly occurring errors are:

  • Wrong medication given to the patient
  • Drugs given at incorrect time
  • Wrong dosage of the drugs
  • Medical devices used incorrectly
  • Wrong treatment given
  • Treated the wrong patient
  • Errors in surgery

The reason for such errors is lack of time and attention, untrained staff, insufficient information and information not readable making it difficult to understand.
Labeling techniques can help in making information readable and understandable. Just by doing this many human errors in healthcare can be prevented. If clear, precise information is presented to healthcare professionals then it makes their lives easier enabling them to serve patients effectively and efficiently.
Let's understand this with an example:

  • A patient, Bob walks in XYZ hospital with chest pain.
  • Bob is asked some questions by Nurse Wanda. Wanda enters all the information for Bob electronically. At the end she creates a label that is tied to Bob's wrist. This label has all the information about Bob
  • Doctor Sam accesses the information Wanda entered in their system and examines Bob. Dr. Sam updates all information in their central system.
  • The doctor orders some tests to be done. The Lab gets all the tests they need to run on Bob through the system
  • The tests are run and the results are posted to the system.
  • Dr. Sam goes through the test results and prescribes medication for Bob. Again the prescription is entered in the system
  • The pharmacy is able to access the information from the system and get Bob's medication ready for pickup.
  • The pharmacy gives Bob a device that will remind him of when it's time for his medication
  • Dr. Sam calls Bob for a follow up visit in couple of weeks.

This simple yet effective method of labeling made the entire process of going to the hospital for the patient hassle free. Also it can be made paperless like in the example above.
Technology advances in the field of sensors, barcodes and tracking mechanisms will help the healthcare industry improve even further. Errors due to prescriptions not understood by pharmacies because of bad handwriting of the doctor or patient information lost as paperwork cannot be traced can easily be prevented. Also traceability of patients, equipment and information can fasten crucial decisions leading to reduction in errors.
Currently RFID technology is being deployed in various areas of the healthcare organizations. Many hospitals have implemented RFID and are making huge quality improvements.