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New medical barcodes could be worth a pound of cure

Barcodes -- they help make sure the price is right for your groceries, and now they're ensuring that the Rx is right for your body. Fans of the scans think the technology could keep the medical mishaps, such as wrong medicines and dosage, away.

Patience, patients. It appears technology will be just what the doctor ordered to minimize medical mix-ups.

About 2% of U.S. hospitals are currently checking out an idea popular in the checkout aisle. They're using bar codes -- similar to those in supermarkets -- to make sure the right patient gets the right medication.

Here's how it works: Bar codes are placed on medicine bottles and on the ID wristbands of patients. When nurses scan them, a computer checks the medication to make sure it matches what the patient's record calls for.

A green signal alerts the nurse if the medicine matches the malady. A red signal appears if something's awry.

So not only do you have the bar code theme going, there's also some traffic light whimsy to boot.

Now the Food and Drug Administration is considering making bar codes mandatory. Hospitals may find the cost of the technology a tough pill to swallow. Bar coding means investing in new hardware and software, as well as installing a wireless network.

The regulation should go down easy for patients, though. The Institute of Medicine says that as many as 98,000 people die each year because of medical errors.

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