Why quicker recall time is key for healthcare – and how barcode scanning helps

By Graeme Woodcock, Manager Healthcare UK and Northern Europe, Scandit

Across the NHS, it’s traditionally been very difficult to know what product has been used on which patient at what time. The Cumberlege Review highlighted that the healthcare system is ‘disjointed, siloed, unresponsive and defensive’. It came to this conclusion after examining three medical treatments: hormone pregnancy tests (mainly the drug Primodos); the anti-epileptic sodium valproate; and pelvic mesh – a surgical material (technically a medical device) implanted in thousands of women to treat organ prolapse and urinary incontinence.

These treatments were linked to serious health issues and, in the latter case, device failure. Yet, existing manual processes for tracking defective devices were inefficient and put patients at risk. Given that the first responsibility of the medical profession is to ‘do no harm’, healthcare organisations need to find ways to manage recalls quickly and efficiently, minimising risk to their patients.

Here we’ll explore the challenges faced today and how smart devices empowered with higher performance scanning software are one proven, available solution.

The challenges of a paper-bound system

One of the key recommendations of the Cumberlege Review was to introduce better stock management in hospital theatres. Managing product, drug or patient recalls has long been a manual, paper-based process. Information is recorded in a theatre book, which is stored for up to ten years. If there are any instances of a device failing, healthcare providers must manually examine the books to understand who may need to have a product recalled and check everyone for due diligence.

This is of course a labour and resource-intensive exercise. Clinicians are spending precious hours examining data they could instead be devoting to patient care. What’s more – as is the case with every manual process – the risk of human error is high. Medical staff, already under great pressure, can easily miss the name of a patient. There’s also no guarantee that the data recorded by hand will be fully accurate in the first place.

Every minute a patient spends with a potentially defective device in their body puts them at risk. That’s why international industry bodies, such as WHO, have undertaken several initiatives to address surgical safety and recall efficiency. Its safe surgery checklist creates a workflow that can be used in theatres to capture the names of staff involved in a surgery, patient details, the instruments and equipment used. This is a step in the right direction for providing greater traceability, but more can still be achieved by digitalising the process.

Barcodes: a universal solution?

Medication Scan Healthcare

As in many industries, barcodes are omnipresent in healthcare. Yet few, so far, have fully exploited their potential for tracking specific products and their use during the patient journey.

Scan4Safety was a £12 million initiative from the Department of Health designed to make better use of barcodes to help staff quickly and easily track every patient through their hospital journey. The scheme also improves operations, finance and supply chain efficiency. Each barcode can be scanned to reveal vital information on everything from the equipment and devices used during surgery to the medication administered afterwards. A record of which clinicians completed each task is also kept, specifying where and at what time.

By actively recording barcodes and storing all the associated data on a central system, it can help support faster recall times in the future. For example, if a fault is identified with a product, such as a device used in knee operations or breast implants, it can be accurately traced. The details, such as when it was used and the surgeon who carried out the procedure, can also be found quickly and easily.

Supporting faster recall with scanning-enabled smart devices

However, this leaves one issue unaddressed. A primary reason barcodes haven’t been fully utilised in the medical setting is the method of scanning involved. Large dedicated scanning equipment has typically been used to record product barcodes. Such equipment is expensive and, by its nature, limits the number of items that can be scanned at a time.

Streamlining the scanning process could win back precious time and lower costs. That’s why the advancement of mobile technology combined with Scandit’s barcode scanning software is so exciting.

The ubiquity of personal mobile devices means that every clinician can be equipped with a portable scanning solution. Instead of transporting products to the nearest scanner, staff simply scan them at the point of care using their phones. The administrative burden is reduced and wasted time slashed.

Scandit’s barcode scanner SDK provides the fastest and most accurate barcode scanning software available, supporting over 20,000 mobile device types and all major barcode types.

We help healthcare organizations automate manual workflows, comply with regulations and free up clinicians to spend more time caring for patients. Our high-performance mobile scanning software powers apps to make swift work of processes like verifying patient details and medication and tracking medical supplies on the go.

How barcode scanning helped improve product inventory and patient traceability for Leeds Teaching Hospitals

Leeds Teaching Hospitals was one of six demonstrator sites selected for Scan4Safety. The Trust worked closely with theatre staff to capture the details of products that were given to patients, using dedicated mobile scanners. Before deployment, the ophthalmology department could devote over eight hours of nursing time to a product recall using the old system. However, after implementing the new system inventory time was cut down to just 35 minutes.  Find out more about how Scandit helped Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in our case study.


Mobile scanning for better healthcare

Until recently, healthcare enterprises have relied on dedicated scanners to capture and record digital information. Today, advances in mobile computer-vision technology make scanning and capturing barcodes a cheaper, faster, more flexible and reliable option. In the hands of healthcare professionals, these smart devices offer clear and measurable benefits when managing workflows. Above all, they improve patient safety by enabling faster recall.

If you want to find out more about how scanning-enabled smart devices can Improve patient safety, reduce human error and inject speed and accuracy into regular workflows, get in touch.