Making data on medical interventions easier to collect and collate would increase the odds of spotting patterns of harm, according to the panel of a recent HSJ webinar
When Baroness Julia Cumberlege was asked to review the avoidable harm caused by two medicines and one medical device, she encountered no shortage of data.
“We found that the NHS is awash with data, but it’s very fractured,” says Baroness Cumberlege, who chaired the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review and now co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group which raises awareness of and support for its findings.
And it is that fracturing that can make patterns of harm difficult to spot. The report concluded that many women and children experienced avoidable harm through use of the hormone pregnancy test Primodos, the epilepsy drug sodium valproate, and the medical device pelvic mesh – simply because it hadn’t been possible to connect the dots.
“It’s very hard to collect things together and to get an overall picture. And one of the things that we felt very strongly about was that data should be collected once, but used often,” said Baroness Cumberlege at a recent HSJ webinar. Run in association with GS1 UK, the event brought together a panel to consider how better data might help address patient safety challenges such as problems with implants.
“But the big problem was they couldn’t identify who had which implants. No doubt somebody somewhere had written this down with a fountain pen and then someone spilt the tea over it and the unique information was lost,” recalled Sir Terence Stephenson , now Nuffield professor of child health at Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and chair of the Health Research Authority for England.
The review he chaired therefore suggested establishing a concept of person, product place – “for everybody who had something implanted in them, we should have their name, the identifier of what had been put in, and where it had been put in. And one of my panel members said: ‘Well, how are we going to record this? We don’t want the fountain pen and the teacup.’”
Ultimately the answer suggested was barcode scanning. By scanning the wristband of a patient, that on the product being implanted, and one for the hospital theatre or department at which it was being implanted, the idea was to create an immediate and easy-to-create record.
For those long convinced of the virtues of barcode scanning in health, it is a welcome development
Two years later, the then Department of Health launched the Scan4Safety programme, in which six “demonstrator sites” implemented the use of scanning across the patient journey. At these organisations, barcodes produced to GS1 standards – meaning they are globally unique – are present on patient wristbands; on equipment used for care, including implantable medical devices; in locations; and sometimes on staff badges.
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