Canada embraces GS1 standards for barcoding drugs


The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP Canada), the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) and GS1 Canada announced a national consensus to adopt global GS1 barcoding standards for pharmaceuticals has been reached.

Thirty four organizations from six healthcare sectors in Canada have agreed to the Joint Technical Statement on Canadian Pharmaceutical Automated Identification and Product Data Requirements, released Wednesday.

The move marks the second step of the Canadian Pharmaceutical Bar Code Project, a four-phase project led by ISMP Canada and CPSI that aims to increase patient safety by automating the identification of all commercial pharmaceuticals on the Canadian market.

“We do see this as being a way to seriously reduce the number of medication errors, which at the end of the day are the largest types of errors that occur in healthcare – in the community as well as hospitals,” said Pierrette Leonard, senior lead of national partners at CPSI.

Adoption of the global standards “will streamline product identification in healthcare,” said Alicia Duval, senior vice-president of healthcare for GS1 Canada. “All healthcare institutions will identify the product the same way using the barcode and they’ll do that automatically through scanning versus manual checks.”

One of the problems in healthcare right now, according to Duval, is the use of proprietary numbers. Not only do different hospitals use different systems, but departments within the same hospital will use different codes, she said.

The standards would apply to all levels of the healthcare information exchange – from sourcing, procuring, distribution and inventory management to matching patient prescriptions and administering medication at patient bedsides, explained Duval.

“The goal is to have data accuracy and product integrity all the same throughout the whole process, where they are not re-labeling and changing the number,” she said.

The Joint Technical Statement provides a framework for building the software and technical systems needed to automate the identification of pharmaceuticals, said Ian Sheppard, project lead for the Canadian Pharmaceutical Bar Code Project, ISMP Canada.

“It’s a technical document, but it’s very exciting. Now the interesting systems can be built around the standard,” he said.

The Bar Code Project allows for different types of application identifier (AI) standards, Sheppard noted. “One is a one-dimensional barcode, one is a two-dimensional barcode and we’ve not excluded the use of RFID chips,” he said.

“There are so many different barcodes and readers out there that by standardizing, we can begin to focus in,” he said.

Hospitals should consider where packing is headed in the future and invest in camera-ready readers that can read two-dimensional barcodes instead of linear barcode scanners, Duval suggested. Two-dimensional barcodes are well suited for pharmacy products due to their small size and ability to carry more data, she noted.

Sheppard envisions barcodes accessing other databases, such as regulatory databases like Health Canada, in the future. “Your imagination is the limit of what that scan of the code can do,” he said.

The barcodes could eventually provide clinical data, blackbox warnings, reports on adverse effects, allergy information, high resolution images or outpatient education material, he said.

“These might not exist today, but by having the code and being able to use relational databases … it really opens the field for ingenious software developers,” he said. 

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur.


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