Bar-coded medication administration (BCMA) systems. Future promise, present challenges

Health Devices. 2003 Oct;32(10):373-81.


One popular new method for building safeguards into the medication administration process is the use of a bar-coded medication administration (BCMA) system. Clinician use the system's bar-code scanner to scan labels on the medication packaging and on the patient's identification wristband. In this way, the system verifies that administered medications match provider orders at the point of care. BCMA systems have received a lot of media attention and manufacturer promotion. However, they aren't yet a practical option for most hospitals. Although they offer great potential to help prevent administration errors, current systems have significant limitations. To realize maximum patient safety benefit, an ideal BCMA system should be capable of both point-of-care medication verification and automatic programming of infusion pumps. No current system offers both capabilities. In this article, we discuss these and other limitations and list objectives that need to be met to make commercial BCMA systems successful. We also give advice to help hospitals reduce medication error now and prepare for future implementation of integrated BCMA systems.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Packaging / trends
  • Electronic Data Processing / instrumentation*
  • Electronic Data Processing / trends*
  • Equipment Design / standards
  • Equipment Design / trends
  • Humans
  • Infusion Pumps / standards
  • Infusion Pumps / trends
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control
  • Medication Systems / standards*
  • Medication Systems / trends*
  • User-Computer Interface