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VA nurse’s idea: bar code scanning to support patient care

Sue Kinnick introduced the now-familiar bar code scanner in 1995 at the Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Since then, it has become a standard in the health care industry.

Here is her story.

At the crossroads of technology and patient care stand the nurses who have chosen nursing informatics as their specialty. Today, informatics is an integral part of health care delivery. Health information technology promotes safe, high-quality Veteran-centric care.

June is National Safety Month. VA’s Office of Health Informatics and Office of Nursing Informatics share how nurses play a critical role in patient safety by using health informatics.

According to the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, health care informatics is an important factor in the implementation and evaluation of health IT tools. It improves health care efficiencies and safety for both clinical staff and the patients they care for.

Nurses continue to be innovators in health care by using informatics tools and practices to revolutionize health care for our nation’s Veterans and patients nationwide.

This revolution is not new

In 1992, a visionary VA nurse worked to introduce and develop wireless, real-time, bar code medication administration (BCMA).

Sue Kinnick first observed the use of a scanner in an airport. She thought this handheld device might be useful in the health care setting. Armed with an idea and experience in data processing, Kinnick decided this type of technology being used in the airport’s rental care agency might be a safe solution to scan and track medications given to Veteran patients.

Her idea planted the seed for what is today’s VA BCMA program. The result was an informatics solution that automates the medication administration process, which ensures administration accuracy and improves patient safety.

The health IT and other staff at the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka, Kansas, developed and implemented a prototype medication administration system that used wireless, point-of-care technology with an integrated bar code scanner.

The prototype system validated the real-time accuracy of the administration based on the physician’s order. It also electronically documented the transaction.

In 1999, VA successfully implemented the software at all VHA medical centers nationwide. In doing so, Kinnick’s innovation would tackle the high rate of drug-related mistakes that contributed heavily to medical errors.

The innovative technology was quickly adopted because of its value to patient safety. Consequently, BCMA dramatically reduced medication errors.

Nurses reduced drug dispensing errors by 86%

In 2002, just four years after the implementation of bar code technology, VA reduced drug-dispensing errors by 86%. Today, medication administration errors remain low. These improvements are a direct result of the nationwide use of bar code technology.

As we celebrate National Safety Month and the work of nursing informatics, Kinnick’s story illustrates how nurse informaticists use their knowledge and understanding of the patient care process, combined with the power of technology, to contribute to the care of Veterans for the transformation of health care.

We also take this time to remember Kinnick. She lost her battle with breast cancer in 1997, unable see her idea develop into a VA-wide initiative. Her last words were, “Keep fighting to keep this project going.”

Kinnick’s dream lives on through the BCMA project, which is based on her successful prototype.