Today’s frenetic pace in hospitals puts all clinical staff under intense pressure, both doctors and nurses, making these spaces the perfect breeding ground for errors in the administration of medication, which are not the result of negligence or carelessness, but of the simple fact that as humans, we sometimes make mistakes. This is why it is essential for hospitals to equip themselves with whatever measures are needed to prevent these types of errors, and colour coding medication is one of these ways.

From the moment in which a doctor prescribes medication to a patient who has been admitted to a hospital, all the way to when it is finally administered to them, there is a whole chain of processes in which errors can occur: the prescription itself or the dosage of the medication, the order’s arrival to the hospital pharmacy, the preparation of the medication and its packaging, its distribution to the hospital room or unit in which the patient is located, the identification of the patient, the administration of the drug itself…

The “5 Rights of Medication Administration” is a useful tool for preventing these mistakes: Before administering any medication, it is important to check that these 5 basic conditions have been met:

  • The right patient
  • The right drug
  • The right dose
  • The right route
  • The right time

However, guaranteeing compliance with these rules is not easy when you are in the “heat of battle” that sometimes comes with working in a hospital. To this end, any measure that helps to prevent medication errors is key.  

What does it mean to colour coding medication?

Colour coding medication is a measure that many hospitals have already begun adopting and is something that is highly recommended by guides on good clinical practices, as well as by the main anaesthesiology societies and the Helsinki Declaration on Patient Safety in Anaesthesiology.

The main idea is to have the hospital pharmacy label containers or syringes following a colour coding medication system that identifies each drug or family of drugs, which allows for rapid visual identification before their administration. It also saves time, since if we can see that the colour code is incorrect with a quick glance, then we won’t need to read the label.

This colour coding medication should be done immediately after preparing and loading a medication, and is especially important with high-risk medications whose misuse can lead to serious consequences or even put the patient’s life at risk.

Even though each hospital may have its own colour coding medication system (provided that it is homogeneous for all areas), the use of international standards is still recommended in order to avoid confusing staff who may have been transferred from other centres. The international standard in this case is ISO 26825:2008, although it only affects the labelling of drugs that leave the hospital pharmacy in pre-filled syringes for use in anaesthesia. However, when dealing with high-risk drugs, their use can be extended to all areas of the hospital. This coding is incorporated into arcomed Chroma pumps, although it can be customised in the event that the client uses a different coding system.

The fact that our Chroma infusion pumps have a high-contrast colour screen allows them to display the colour coding on the screen when selecting a drug from the incorporated library, thus adding an extra layer of security: remembering which colour corresponds to each family of drugs no longer depends on the medical or nursing staff’s memory, but on the pump itself which shows the colour on the screen. The only thing that needs to be done is to check that the colour of the screen coincides with the colour of the label. This is part of the Drug Error Reduction System (DERS) that our pumps are equipped with, providing useful assistance in addition to also improving patient safety and saving time at key moments or while under intense stress, which is often the case with patients in intensive care or in the operating room.

At arcomed, we are firmly committed to patient safety and reducing medication errors. Colour coding medication is just one more step, but we will continue to incorporate as many advances as possible in order to keep on improving safety and making errors a thing of the past.