Newborn babies to get bar codes instead of handwritten name tags

Times Online
23.04.2010

An NHS hospital has become the first in the country to issue all new born babies with bar codes instead of traditional handwritten tags.

Kettering General Hospital’s maternity unit has introduced the system to end mistakes caused by the illegible handwriting of medical staff.

Now all newborns are getting a personal bar code strapped on their ankles which midwives zap with a scanner to read the baby’s details.

Medical staff can find the child’s name, date of birth, national insurance number and name of the mother in a matter of seconds. They can also trace blood samples at the press of a button via a regional laboratory that tests for conditions such as sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis.

Bar coding also eliminates the risk of scribbling wrong facts or figures in health notes, so reducing the risk of childhood conditions and diseases going unnoticed.

The move by the foundation hospital, in Northamptonshire,comes after a national safety review. Bar codes are estimated to cut drastically the time spent on paperwork by midwives, nurses and doctors.

Paula Lilburn, the hospital’s information and technology project manager, said: ”The new system is quicker and safer because the bar-coded information can be quickly read by the computers without the possibility of human transcription errors.” The hospital spent three months developing the electronic baby system.

The first babies to be bar-coded were born this week. Previously midwives or doctors wrote the newborn’s name, mother and date of birth and NI number on an ankle band. Midwives would also fill in a handwritten form and send it with blood tests to a regional laboratory. But scientists often faced problems deciphering handwriting, which could lead to some medical conditions failing to be diagnosed.

The ankle bar code also includes a heel prick blood sample label taken after five weeks, which proud new parents can take home with them in a little red baby book.

Gail Johnson, education and professional development adviser at Royal College of Midwifery, said: ” This is about making sure the right information is shared. It makes it safer so there can be no mistakes and streamlines the service. If you have got to write out numbers four or five times there is the potential for mistakes. But if you have got it in a bar code you get rid of mistakes and eradicate human error.”

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