BCMA Technology: Characterization of Med Triggers and Workarounds (Article)

There’s an interesting article in the February 2011 issue of The Annals of Pharmacotherapy dealing with BCMA and what the author describes as “clinical workarounds”.1


BACKGROUND: Bar code medication administration (BCMA) technology is gaining acceptance for its ability to prevent medication administration errors. However, studies suggest that improper use of BCMA technology can yield unsatisfactory error prevention and introduction of new potential medication errors.
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the incidence of high-alert medication BCMA triggers and alert types and discuss the type of nursing and pharmacy workarounds occurring with the use of BCMA technology and the electronic medication administration record (eMAR).
METHODS: Medication scanning and override reports from January 1, 2008, through November 30, 2008, for all adult medical/surgical units were retrospectively evaluated for high-alert medication system triggers, alert types, and override reason documentation. An observational study of nursing workarounds on an adult medicine step-down unit was performed and an analysis of potential pharmacy workarounds affecting BCMA and the eMAR was also conducted.
RESULTS: Seventeen percent of scanned medications triggered an error alert of which 55% were for high-alert medications. Insulin aspart, NPH insulin, hydromorphone, potassium chloride, and morphine were the top 5 high-alert medications that generated alert messages. Clinician override reasons for alerts were documented in only 23% of administrations. Observational studies assessing for nursing workarounds revealed a median of 3 clinician workarounds per administration. Specific nursing workarounds included a failure to scan medications/patient armband and scanning the bar code once the dosage has been removed from the unit-dose packaging. Analysis of pharmacy order entry process workarounds revealed the potential for missed doses, duplicate doses, and doses being scheduled at the wrong time.
CONCLUSIONS: BCMA has the potential to prevent high-alert medication errors by alerting clinicians through alert messages. Nursing and pharmacy workarounds can limit the recognition of optimal safety outcomes and therefore workflow processes must be continually analyzed and restructured to yield the intended full benefits of BCMA technology.

The study described in the article utilized a combination of retrospective analysis and direct observation to identify alert triggers generated by a BCMA system. In addition the study looked at various workarounds utilized by nursing as well as pharmacy. The article is a much more limited version of the one by Koppel in 2008.2

The Annals article identifies some disturbing trends at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) where the study took place. Examples include failure to document override reasons for 77% of alert messages and 468 directly observed workarounds during 121 administration attempts over a 6 hours period. Those number are a sure sign of a poorly designed system and lack of institutional oversight. It certainly has nothing to do with BCMA and the overall effectiveness of the technology. Sounds like some disciplinary action is in order.

One other thing I found unusual in the article was the classification of pharmacy workarounds. “Specific pharmacy workarounds included duplicate orders, lack of medication order verification, medications within the incorrect section of the eMAR (prn vs standard administration time), and incorrectly timed medications causing administration too late/early for the nursing staff.” I’m not sure how you see this, but a duplicate order isn’t a workaround, it’s an order entry error. Same goes for entering an order as PRN instead of SCH. Not sure what the author had in mind when he made the decision to classify these as workarounds. Weird.

  1. Daniel F Miller, Christopher R Fortier, and Kelli L Garrison Bar Code Medication Administration Technology: Characterization of High-Alert Medication Triggers and Clinician Workarounds Articles Ahead of Print published on 1 February 2011, DOI 10.1345/aph.1P262. Ann Pharmacother ;45:162-168.
  2. Koppel R, Wetterneck T, Telles JL, et al. Workarounds to barcode medication administration systems: their occurrences, causes, and threats to patient safety. J Am Med Inform Assoc 2008;15:408-23.

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