Hospitals to track blood products by barcode

IRELAND is the first country in the world to set a new safety standard by electronically tracking blood products given to people with the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia.

The very latest advances in barcode technology are to be used to check all blood-clotting products used by patients over the next year.

An electronic scanner will read a barcode on the patient’s hospital wristband and one placed on the clotting factor. The computer system will then check that the right treatment is being administered.

Launching the initiative at St James’s Hospital in Dublin yesterday, Health Minister Micheál Martin said his department supported the programme because it allowed Ireland to lead the way in accountability, safety and quality of haemophilia care.

The Government-appointed Lindsay Tribunal underlined in its 2002 report that only the highest quality and safest blood products should be given to haemophiliacs.

“The tribunal believes this is the situation at present, but this must continue to be the case,” tribunal chairwoman Judge Alison Lindsay said.

In particular, the new system will allow a rapid and comprehensive product recall. Failure to do so in the past resulted in haemophiliacs being infected with HIV and hepatitis C from contaminated blood products.

The system, which cost €1 million to set up, also has major implications for other high-risk areas of medicine and the team at St James’s Hospital have already completed a proposal to introduce a similar system for cancer care.

The global consultation group from the World Federation of Haemophilia (WFH) will oversee the introduction of the new tracking system with a view to introducing similar systems in other countries.

The group includes representatives from the World Health Organisation, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Commission and the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA).

Director of the National Centre for Hereditary Coagulation Disorders at St James’s Hospital, Dr Barry White, said 40,000 vials of factor concentrate are used every year to treat clotting disorders, with around 60% self-administered by haemophiliacs in their own homes.

About 600 people in Ireland have haemophilia. Everyone with the disease is now treated with a synthetic clotting agent introduced in 1997 to eliminate the infection risk from products made from blood donations.

Dr White pointed out clotting products are currently traced manually by inputting information into a computer system. “Very often you are entering 30 characters for each of those 40,000 vials. It’s a system that’s very prone to error but it was the best that could be done with available technology,” he said.

President of the WFH and a member of the National Haemophilia Council, Brian O’Mahony, said it was crucial lessons of the past were learned to avoid them being repeated.

“Optimum treatment for haemophilia requires more than the selection of the safest and most efficacious products. Products must be monitored and recalled rapidly if necessary. Clinical management must be timely. People with haemophilia must be notified at all times. This system should greatly assist with these tasks,” he said.

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