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Barcode Technology for Specimen Collection

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Barcode Technology for Specimen Collection

Image for medical bar coding Preventable medical errors cost Americans billions of dollars in lost income, lost production, disability, and healthcare costs. More alarming, an estimated 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year as a result of medical errors, according to a report published by the Institute of Medicine.

Both private industry and government agencies are using enhanced technology to help prevent errors, and private industry has developed barcoding systems designed to streamline the specimen collection process.

Room for Improvement

Physicians use specimen testing to help diagnose disease, assess health, and monitor medication levels. Regardless of the type of specimen (blood, urine, or other), accurate results rely on error-free collection procedures. Specimens that are collected incorrectly may lead to erroneous test results that can have serious consequences for patients, including delayed treatments or incorrect medication adjustments.

Mistaken patient identity and incorrectly labeled specimens are two of the most common medical errors. Other types of errors include collecting too small a sample or collecting it in the wrong container.

Accurate documentation is also important. Failing to document the time or collection site can result in error. Delayed transportation of specimens and computer errors may also result in problems.

What Can Be Done?

Physicians and hospitals around the country are taking a number of measures to prevent specimen collection errors. One approach is to incorporate the barcoding technology so familiar to us in grocery stores and retail merchandising. Three systems using this approach are:

  • The BD.id System
  • The MedPoint Patient Safety System
  • MediCopia

The BD.id System

Becton, Dickinson and Company, (BD) has developed the BD.id System. This system works by tracking the specimen collection process from bedside to laboratory.

A typical collection with the BD.id System starts with the physician ordering a test in the hospital’s laboratory information system. The healthcare professional who is collecting the specimen (usually a nurse or phlebotomist) downloads the physician’s orders to the BD.id handheld computer.

Once at bedside, the nurse or phlebotomist scans his or her work badge into the computer. Next, the healthcare professional scans the patient’s wristband, ensuring that the correct specimen is being collected from the right patient. The specimen tube is also scanned to ensure that the correct container is being used for the right patient. The bedside printer prints out a barcoded label that is attached to the specimen container. The final step is an upload of the collection information into the laboratory system.

The Bd.id system also offers a management report function. Any healthcare professional who makes errors is identified and retrained. Reports from this system tracks both actual and prevented errors. For instance, if a patient was about to have their blood drawn but the system showed the test as unnecessary, this would show up as a prevented error.

The cost of the Bd.id system depends on the number of healthcare professionals who will require handheld units. Bd.id system was acquired by Siemens in March 2007.

The MedPoint Patient Safety System

Bridge Medical has taken a different approach to developing a specimen collection system. Bridge’s MedPoint Patient Safety System is a three-pronged application that uses barcode technology for medications, specimens, and transfusions.

This system works with whatever technology the hospital uses (laptop, tablet, or handheld device). The information collected by the MedPoint system is stored in a database and tracked as needed.


Lattice, Inc. has a combination system called MediCopia, which offers a specimen collection, billing, and pharmacy application. This system is available as a package or as separate elements.

MediCopia uses a handheld computer, a barcode scanner, a printer, and wireless radio technology. The wireless radio allows caregivers to receive information, such as emergency orders, on their handheld computers without having to upload or download information from a computer.

Safe and Effective Communication

A staple for decades in the consumer goods market, barcode technology has increased purposes in the healthcare field. Communicating information through barcodes hopefully will substantially decrease medical error and potentially save patient lives.


Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society website.

US Department of Health and Human Services.


BC Health Guide

Health Canada


Kohn LT, Corrigan JM, Donaldson MS. To Err Is Human, Building A Safer Health System. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2003:26-43

MedPoint specimen: extending the point-of-care investment. Bridge Medical website. Available at http://www.bridgemedical.com/pdf/Specimen_Mgmt_May_2002.pdf. Accessed on March 16, 2008.

Mobile computing. Lattice, Inc. website. Available at: http://www.lattice.com/mobmedic.htm. Accessed on March 16, 2008.

Secretary Thompson announces steps to reduce medication errors. US Department of Health & Human Services website. Available at: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2003pres/20030313.html. Accessed on March 16, 2008.

The BD.id Patient Identification System. Becton, Dickinson and Company website. Available at: http://www.bd/com/bdid. Accessed on March 16, 2008.

Last reviewed March 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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