Scanning the benefits: evidence base for barcode scanning starts to build


The results of the two-year Scan4Safety trials into the use of point-of-care barcode scanning technology across the NHS in England are revealing the benefits of this approach - which is already commonplace across retail and other sectors - for healthcare.

A report on the trials published this month (July) by GS1 begins to build the evidence base for this technology. The report includes detail from independent audits - carried out by the Department of Health and Social Care - of the results experienced by the six demonstrator sites* as well as extensive interviews with Trusts that have successfully implemented point-of-care scanning.

In the foreword to the report, Lord David Prior, Chair of NHS England, says: “It is time they [barcodes] became commonplace in the NHS. They offer traceability, efficiency savings and greater patient safety.”


How it works

At the demonstrator sites, barcodes produced to GS1 standards** are present on patient wristbands, on equipment used for care (including implantable medical devices), in locations and sometimes on staff badges.

Before and during procedures all barcodes are scanned, thus enabling the creation of a comprehensive data set of products used, where they were and which members of staff were involved. It provides a comprehensive, real-time view of stock, including that which is about to expire, and a complete audit trail.


Benefits from the demonstrator sites

Demonstrator sites have seen a reduction in costs and an increase in efficiency, with benefits such as better stock management, inventory control and traceability; a reduction in unwarranted variation of patient-level costings; and improved patient safety with a reduction in drug errors and never events.

Across the demonstrator sites, 140,000 hours of clinical time have been released to care, whilst recurrent inventory savings worth nearly £5m and non-recurrent inventory reductions of £9m are reported.

“From a financial point of view, it makes sense,” says Kevin Downs, Executive Director of Finance and Performance at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust.


Getting started

A five-year licensing agreement between GS1 UK and NHS Digital commenced at the beginning of April 2019 and means all Trusts in England can generate GS1 barcodes at no additional cost.

The full report is available here and includes much more detail on lessons learned by the demonstrator sites that may help other Trusts to successfully implement point-of-care barcode scanning.


* Demonstrator sites are:

University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

** This means the barcodes are globally unique

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