GS1 Canada/GS1

Saving lives through improving healthcare standards

With all of Canada aiming for a truly effective healthcare system, it was timely that CBJ had the opportunity to speak with Alicia Duval, SVP, Healthcare for GS1 Canada, to talk about improving healthcare standards.  GS1 Canada is a national not-for-profit member organization that is a subsidiary of GS1—the world’s leading standards organization for supply chain and e-commerce. The organization in Canada develops, promotes, and maintains global standards used by over 1 million businesses worldwide, aiming to improve efficiency and safety.

Carenet is GS1 Canada’s healthcare sector strategy to standardize the healthcare supply chain. The goal: to enhance patient safety and drive increased adoption of standardized supply chain and e-commerce practices in Canada’s healthcare sector.  The Carenet network includes over 470 Canadian healthcare providers, as well as 95 leading suppliers, major Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs) and technology solution providers.  Together, these trading partners account for more than seventy percent of all hospital supply chain activities.

Increasing patient safety

Healthcare is an industry in which safety is critical, because people’s lives depend on the safety of healthcare institutions. With a mandate to improve healthcare standards, the Carenet Strategy is, according to Duval “increasing patient safety and saving lives.”

The most common GS1 standard is the bar code, which is used every day in retail sectors. However, this type of standard is a critical piece of healthcare solutions in Canada. A bar code can improve documentation in the medication process, as the potential for human error at each step can be reduced. For instance, scanning of patients’ wristbands can ensure that the right patient is treated and bar codes on patient charts can make sure the right medication has been ordered.  A bar code on the drug package itself ensures the right medication is administered.  

Working with the right partners

GS1 Canada places a strong emphasis on the value of global standards in healthcare, above and beyond a national approach: “Due to the global nature of the healthcare industry today, and the worldwide threat of medication errors and counterfeiting, country-by-country work to improve the healthcare supply chain is neither sufficient nor effective.  The adoption of GS1 global standards enables traceability and interoperability across jurisdictions and sectors.”

Developing global standards, therefore, depends on governments working together, but also industry collaboration. “The first fundamental area that needs to be addressed is the industry’s willingness to work together to be able to incorporate standards into their sector,” says Duval.

“The healthcare sector is working to develop standards so when product arrives at any healthcare facility it will be identified the same way, from the point of procurement right through to patient care, such as bedside barcode scanning to verify the right patient is getting the right medication.  Through the Carenet Strategy, GS1 Canada and the Canadian healthcare community are “doing exactly that for healthcare, we’re working as a collective community to identify the standards and reach agreement to implement them on a pan-Canadian basis,” showing a willingness of many partners — manufacturers, distributors, Group Purchasing Organizations, Shared Service Organizations and hospitals — to work together for the betterment of healthcare.

The healthcare supply chain

Essentially, patient safety is centric to the objective of the Carenet Strategy, as is supply chain optimisation. “One of the areas we’ll be looking at is how do we drive business electronically, between suppliers in the healthcare industry and the institutions,” says Duval. One of the critical areas is location identification, so that everyone in the healthcare supply chain identifies locations the same way. This strategy scopes internationally as well.
“We’re working with the different provinces as well as members of the healthcare community. We want to educate them on what a standard is and how to implement. We need each of our hospitals to have access to clean information about products and implement standards that move product within the health care supply chain efficiently—from the point of manufacture and procurement right to the point of bedside barcode scanning,” she continues.  

Overall, through the Carenet Strategy, GS1 Canada aims to work with provincial partners and industry in order to reduce errors in the supply chain and free up the time of medical professionals who would otherwise be fixing mistakes. “It’s not only the government, but also the Canadian public that want to see this change,” reasons Duval.

The future of the healthcare system

With the focus on increasing patient safety, GS1 Canada emphasizes that bar codes and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are proven to reduce medical errors by matching product data to patient data (with the patient’s consent). In addition, traceability along the healthcare supply chain “helps ensure that a patient receives the right dosage of the right medication at the right time,” and identification technology ensures the authenticity of pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device products.  

In terms of developments for the coming year, GS1 Canada will be supporting the Canadian healthcare sector to implement these standards, with an international focus in mind. The idea is for the healthcare sector to adopt standards globally, so the healthcare community can reduce administration and time “waste” that is currently much too high. When talking about improving standards, the clearest message is this: the adoption of supply chain standards in Ontario hospitals alone represent an estimated $300 million in savings over time to the system—and all of this capital can be reinvested into what could be Canada’s most critical industry.