Opinion: Vendor Compatibility with ISBT Codes

While I was  Division Head, Laboratory Information Systems LIS elsewhere, we serviced a client hospital not using Medinfo for its patient hospital blood/transfusion services.  It used the blood bank module of a hospital information system’s laboratory system.

In their service level agreement, they wanted a complete list of all the ISBT product E codes that we used.  I found this strange and told them their system must have access to the ISBT database so they should have no problem in reading our codes directly.

The same hospital system was in use for our hospital system (excluding our blood banks, which used Medinfo and had no such problems.)  I discovered that this hospital system could NOT read any ISBT codes natively for the end-users, e.g. departments outside the blood bank.  Without informing us, the nursing staff were manually entering “something” into their system.   That something could be anything:  the system would accept any series of alphanumeric characters.  They could select any type for each component (e.g. RBC for a platelet, plasma for an RBC, etc.).  They had no reliable record of transfusion!

In fact, in that hospital information system, ISBT codes could only be read in their blood bank module, which we did not use at all.  That vendor subsequently purchased another software to read the labels, but I discovered that the new “solution” software still could not directly access the ISBT database!!  They still had no functionality to read ISBT labels on the wards!!  You still had to hard-code it into their system.

Thus, we were forced to give the new client a list of our current E codes.  I warned them that we did change these codes (e.g. when we adopted platelet additive solution).  It was their responsibility to change the “hard code” into their blood bank module of that vendor.

As regards our hospital information system, we had to “hard code” the ISBT codes into the order requests so they could use that to document the transfusion.  We also had to provide the descriptor for each and every code.

To this day, I am astounded that a modern hospital system still cannot read ISBT codes natively.  Surely, they could license a copy of the ISBT database—or at least let the end-user client license it and upload it into their system.

I am skeptical of a “one-size-fits-all” comprehensive, Swiss Army Knife like software that has some limited functionalities but lacks the details needed for actually using blood components.  I wonder if the compromises made to build this system make it similarly mediocre for other functionalities outside the blood bank sphere.

I consider myself very fortunate to have elected NOT to use this patient transfusion service module and go with a full-feature blood bank system.


Be careful about trusting the vendor’s promises.  Check to see how they handle the ISBT labels.