Japan to Require Bar Codes on Prescription Drugs

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare plans to implement a new rule requiring prescription drugs to have bar codes in order to reduce dosage errors. The first phase is planned for the summer of 2005. Later this year, a panel of medical experts and drug company representatives will meet to discuss the details of the plan.

Cost is the major factor for hospitals and clinics. It is estimated to cost $46,000 to equip a single hospital ward with the necessary bar code scanners, ID bracelets, and computer systems. In the long run, however, the plan is expected to save money spent on treating errors.

Pharmaceutical companies and their suppliers must act quickly in order to conform to the new law. The Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association of Japan says it will include bar codes on injection solutions in 2005. A federation official said, “Giving the wrong injection can cause a serious problem. We hope to start with injection solutions then expand to all medicines.”

Critical errors in dosage amounts in the past prompted the new regulation. In the future, hospital patients will wear bracelets with a bar code containing their medical history and prescribed medication. This information will be compared with bar codes on drug packages, which would include the name, composition, and other information about the product. Medical practitioners would immediately be alerted to any inconsistencies.