VA Wins National Award for Safe Medication Practices

Jan 19, 2010, 13:30 ET from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has won top national honors from the independent Institute for Safe Medication Practices for its excellence in preventing medication errors.

"As one of the first health care organizations to develop and test bar code technology for medication administration, VA takes pride in its safety standards," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said.  "This honor confirms that the department is delivering excellence in health care to our nation's Veterans."

Called the "Cheers Awards," it honors individuals, organizations, companies and government agencies that set a high standard for keeping patients safe and improving the process of using medication.

For more than a decade, VA's health care system has given hospital patients a bar code wristband.  The bar code contains the patient's unique identifier information.  Nurses scan the wristband and the patient's electronic health record displays the patient's medical information.  Then the nurse scans a corresponding code on a drug package before giving the medication to the patient.  This ensures the right medications go to hospital patients at the right time, in the right dose.

What began as a stroke of genius on the part of a VA nurse watching a rental-car employee scan a bar code has become a widely used means of reducing medication errors in public and private hospitals.  This year marks VA's milestone of 10 years scanning bar codes on patient wristbands and drug packages to ensure safe and effective treatment.

"Administering medications with verification from bar-coding technology has proven to be a major step to ensure the safety of our hospitalized patients," Shinseki said.  "It's one example of VA's leading edge in electronic medical records."

VA's bar code program has received similar recognition from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists, as well as a Federal Technology Leadership Award.

In August 1999, VA first deployed bar code software throughout its medical centers to detect potential errors at the point where medications are given to patients.  Since then, VA has administered more than 1.3 billion doses of medication through this automated system.  

SOURCE U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs