The FDA unit-of-use marking requirement for manufacturers is not sufficient to satisfy the information needs of most patient safety programs. The more medications that are marked with bar codes, the more effective the programs will be. Hospitals routinely repackage medications that come in unit-of-use packages into specific unit-doses, making manufacturer-applied bar codes at the former packaging level insufficient for the latter. Some are concerned that manufacturers will also eliminate unit-of-use packaging for some pharmaceuticals rather than code them. Furthermore, compounds are exempted from the rule. Because IV mixtures frequently contain patient-specific additives, the pharmacy should have an on-demand printing system capable of producing patient-specific bar codes. These examples show the limited reach of the FDA requirement and illustrate the demand for in-house bar code marking.
Hospitals have several options for overcoming the shortfalls of FDA-mandated supplier bar code marking, includ¬ing both manual and automated repackaging, overwrapping, and other on-demand bar code printing. Many early adopters of bar coding use a combination of methods to meet all their needs, and other hospitals will likely follow suit. Regardless of the techniques used, hospital pharmacies should establish thermal printers as the foundation of their in-house bar code labeling program. Thermal bar code printers support all pharmaceutical bar code format and data options, and excel at producing high-quality symbols suitable for vials, syringes, ampuls, IV bags, tablets, and other medication forms. Thermal printers also provide strong total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) advantages com¬pared to other marking methods. They can be easily integrated with legacy pharmacy information systems and will not need to be replaced as additional applications and systems are developed.
Many pharmaceutical packaging and marking systems already use integrated thermal printers to produce medication and bar code labels. Thermal printers can also be used to support equipment that doesn't offer bar coding capabilities.