Leapfrog Group: Most hospitals aren't using medication administration technology effectively

Most hospitals are equipped with bar-code medication administration (BCMA) capabilities—they're just not fully taking advantage of the technology, according to a new report. 

Castlight Health analyzed data from Leapfrog Group's Hospital Survey and found (PDF) that among nearly 2,000 participating hospitals, 98.7% had BCMA technology in place. BCMA helps prevent medication errors by ensuring that patients are receiving the correct medication and correct dose at the bedside. 

Medication monitoring systems also connect to electronic health record systems to warn clinicians about patients' allergies and other possible risks.  

But, despite the benefits, and widespread adoption, Leapfrog found that only about one-third of hospitals (34.5%) meet the group's requirements for using the technology effectively. 

RELATED: IHI 2017—Patient safety efforts must move beyond the hospital to encompass ambulatory, home settings 

Leapfrog's standards include four steps: 

  1. A bar-code system is in place across all of the hospital's intensive care, medical and surgical or labor and delivery units.
  2. The bar codes for patients and medications are both scanned in 95% of bedside medication administrations.
  3. All seven decision support elements that are deemed essential by Leapfrog's BCMA Expert Panel are in place.
  4. The five best practices the group has outlined to prevent dangerous workarounds have been deployed. 

A significant number of failures occur at the second step, according to the report, with nearly half of studied hospitals (42%) missing the mark when it comes to scanning bar codes. This can pose a significant patient safety risk, according to Leapfrog. 

RELATED: Hospitals often ill-equipped to care for high-risk babies, Leapfrog Group finds 

Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder told FierceHealthcare she is encouraged to see hospitals using BCMA technology, but more could be done to ensure it's used effectively. 

"[Hospitals] are investing heavily in bar-code medication administration," she said. "They don't want to have workarounds that happen on the floor that nullify these advantages in technologies." 

About 79% of hospitals have all five of Leapfrog's recommendations to prevent workarounds in place. Among those missing at least one of the recommendations, 58% failed to conduct real-time staff observations, and 56.7% failed to establish a committee to review the data. 

Binder said the report makes it clear that hospitals are leaving some advantages of BCMA on the table but can easily remedy that problem by emphasizing best practices.

"I think once you put a priority on this and a push on this, you can make it happen," she said.