Cancer Center Improves Drug Labeling

June 10, 2015

BENNINGTON—June 10, 2015—A new labeling initiative launched at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s (SVMC) Cancer Center is reducing the risk of preventable medication errors.

According to Charles Still, the senior systems analyst who oversaw the effort, “Fewer than five percent of US hospitals are using this labeling technology, which highlights very discrete and important elements of a medication label. While clear labeling is important for all medications, it’s of particular importance in cancer treatment, where every administered medication is formulated for the specific needs of each patient.”

The equipment necessary to produce medical labels is highly specialized. It needs to interface with the hospital pharmacy system simply and securely.

“In the past labels were printed only in black and white,” said Mike Gijanto, the primary oncology pharmacist at the Cancer Center. “The new large-print, color labels add an extra layer of safety by highlighting the patient name, drug, and infusion rate to be programed into the pump.”

A team including pharmacists, pharmacy techs, nurses, IT specialists, and physicians worked together with the one goal of maximizing patient safety in the medication-delivery process.

There are 19 unique data elements on a patient label, ranging from the drug and concentration to the patient’s name. Further, different users of the label have different needs. As an example, the pharmacy tech is most concerned with the IV component drugs and their concentrations. A nurse is most concerned with the correct patient name and drug.

The new labeling features yellow and green highlighting and a much larger font. That makes it easier for the administering nurse to verify that the correct medication is being administered to the correct patient.

The paper the label is printed on is different, too. The ink will not smudge or fade in the unlikely case it comes into contact with rubbing alcohol or water.

According to Mary Weinfurt, RN, who supervises the nurses who administer chemotherapy, the new labels are far easier to use.

“It is a wonderful change. The font size and color make it far easier to identify the patient, find the proper infusion rate, and program the pump,” she said. “The ease of use improves the nurse’s ability to focus on the patient.”

Last year hundreds of people sought care at the SVMC Cancer Center. This effort and others like it contribute to SVMC’s having earned the highest score for quality, safety, patient satisfaction, and value of any hospital in Northern New England, according to the Medicare value program’s 2015 rating.

“There is not one change that relates to perfect patient safety; it’s the layering of many evidence-based practices that combine to ensure that we are providing the safest and most efficient care possible,” said Still.

SVMC Cancer Center is a department of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC). It is accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and provides full-service cancer care in a community setting. Its physicians are members of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians. SVMC is part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC), an integrated health system serving Bennington and Windham Counties in Vermont, Northern Berkshire County in Massachusetts, and upper New York State. In addition to the hospital and the Cancer Center, SVHC consists the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation in Bennington, SVMC Northshire Campus in Manchester, SVMC Deerfield Valley Campus in Wilmington, Mountain Medical at the foot of Mount Snow in West Dover, and the SVHC Foundation. It also includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians, a multispecialty medical group operated in partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock. For more information, visit svhealthcare.org