OREM — When Dixie Johnson gave birth to her children years ago, the hospital nurses administered medication frequently — and silently.
"You never knew what it was or what it was for," Johnson said. "They just gave it to you without an explanation."
But Johnson recalls suffering an adverse reaction to a drug given to her after childbirth.
Her questions — such as the drug's name and dosage amount — went unanswered. Fearful of another allergic reaction to the same medication, she tracked down the information.
"No one would tell me anything," she said. "They wouldn't even put it on my medical record."
Times have changed.
On Monday, as Johnson sat in her hospital room, a nurse passed a bar code scanner near her wrist before giving her medication to combat Johnson's pneumonia.
A personalized bar code on Johnson's wristband helps Wendy Mack deliver the right medication and the right dosage to the right patient.
"We already know what the patients needs," said Mack, Johnson's nurse, "but it's kind of an extra reminder."
Medical staff at Timpanogos Regional has been using bar codes — or Electric Medication Administration Record (E-MAR) — since last summer to help reduce medical errors.
The concept is simple: Hospital patients wear ID bracelets with bar codes that link patients to a medical record that keeps track of the medications and doses that patients receive.
If the medication is wrong, or if the dosage is inappropriate, a warning screen will alert medical staff to a potential problem.
Other HCA hospitals in Utah, including Mountain View in Payson, St. Marks in Salt Lake, Lake View in Bountiful, Brigham City Hospital and Ogden Regional Medical Center also use the bar-code system.
Some 2 percent of the nation's hospitals do likewise. More are likely to follow suit since an FDA ruling last week that requires bar codes to be used on most prescription drugs, certain over-the-counter drugs and blood products dispensed at hospitals.
According to the association's Web site, the "FDA's bar code rules uses bar codes to address an important public health concern — medication errors associated with drug products."
Within two years, all hospital drugs will be required by the FDA to have a machine-readable bar code, which contains a number that uniquely identifies each medication.
While the bar-coding burden falls on drugmakers, the FDA has recommended that hospitals institute a similar bar code system for patients. Some reports indicate an estimated savings of $4.8 billion to $7.6 billion in record-keeping and reporting expenses.
"There's a lot of little white pills. You can't tell visually which pills are which anymore," said Clyde Roach, pharmacy director for Timpanogos Regional. "Bar coding takes out one more human error where would could make mistakes."
As a result, FDA estimates that 500,000 drug and blood transfusion errors will be prevented and $93 billion will be saved over the next 20 years.
Moreover, lives will be saved. Every year across the United States, 40,000 to 90,000 hospital deaths are attributable to unsafe practices, said Timpanogos spokesman Jacque Brown.
"Any time there is an error," Brown said, "it's one too many."