Using technology in care homes – eMAR



Medicines errors in care homes are unacceptably high. A key study found that residents taking seven or more medicines had a 79% chance of being victim of a medicines error (Alldred et all 2009).


Best practice in medicines record keeping

The management of medicines in nursing and residential homes is part of a highly complex pathway.  It involves multiple staff groups and organisations.

These include the G.P.; all who prescribe medicines and treatments; Care Staff of all grades; Support Workers; Consultants: Specialist Practitioners; and the Pharmacies who supply the medicines.

Benefits of electronic MAR charts

The benefits of implementing electronic MAR charts fall into three categories.

  1. Improved legibility.
  2. Improved access (e.g., if the charts are accessed and updated on a computer or portable device there is less risk of losing, damaging, or mislaying them).
  3. eMAR chart systems that obtain the data taken directly from the Community Pharmacy system eliminate the need for transcribing, which is a high-risk area.

In addition to the three benefits mentioned, carefully planned, and implemented eMAR systems contribute to a decrease in medicines errors, reduced administrative costs and improved quality of care.

Challenges of implementing electronic MAR charts

There are three ‘bottom line’ challenges to manage when transitioning to electronic MAR charts.

1. Assessing the way the system works is critical, as poorly designed will not deliver benefits, and eventually fail.

The system must be easy to use and jargon free, using only approved acronyms or mnemonics.

Electronic systems also offer the opportunity to introduce features which enhance safety, some of which, such as time ordered charts, are difficult to include in a paper-based system.

Here’s a checklist:



2. It is vital that the system handles patient consent; patient confidentiality, system access; ownership of patient identifiable data; storage and transfer of data in a way which is compliant with the laws and regulations of your part of the U.K. This is an important question for you to pose to the supplier, particularly with the advent of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the new Data Protection Act 2018.



3. It is important to look at current processes and how the new system will work. There have been problems where acute prescriptions were needed and supplied by a different pharmacy from the one providing the MAR charts, so the home ended up at times with an electronic MAR and a paper MAR. This causes confusion and increases the risk of errors and/or omissions. Colleagues have told me of instances where this has led to eMAR systems being abandoned.

Training and support requirements

Quality training and support, both during the implementation and on an ongoing basis, underpin all successful healthcare I.T systems, and need to be planned from the outset. There are four areas which are sometimes overlooked that deserve special mention.

1.  Many of the users of eMAR systems will be Healthcare Assistants or other non-registered skilled staff. As a result, it will be important that the training they receive reinforces their duty to keep accurate records, and their accountability and role is made clear.

2. A substantial number of staff may speak English as a second language. Therefore, it is important that eMAR systems do not use any unnecessary jargon, and that any help text is in plain language.

3. Appropriate knowledge of Data Protection (GDPR) and Information Governance Rules and regulations are essential and should be built into any training programmes.

Overall, consideration needs to be given to the nature and content of the training needed to implement the system, including how this is linked to the policies and procedures and overall governance of the home.

Good suppliers will be able to give advice and support on this.


Record keeping in medicines management is a critical safety area for care homes. The current high level of medicines errors is in care homes affect half a million people in England.

The prospect of implementing electronic systems for recording medicines administration holds great potential but is not itself without risk. It needs to be approached carefully in the light of the complex arrangements and multiple organisations involved in prescribing, supplying, administering, and monitoring medicines in care homes.

In time, electronic systems will become the norm for medicines management in care homes.

Given the considerations over choice and implementation of systems, eMAR can overcome problems of legibility, transcribing, and access to records and information in a way which is not possible with paper systems.

In years to come it is likely that, just as most G.P.’s would not want to return to paper systems, care homes will come to see electronic systems in the same way. The main beneficiary of this will be the residents in terms of improved safety.

This, in turn, will benefit care home staff who will no longer be involved in the risky business of sorting out, transcribing and chasing paper records. Care home providers will also benefit through decreased indirect costs associated with more efficient and safer processes.

Reference: Alldred P, Barber N, Buckle P et al (2009) Care home use of medicines study (CHUMS): Medication errors in nursing and residential care homes – prevalence, consequences, causes and solutions. Report to the Patient Safety Research Portfolio. Department of Health, London.
 Steve Turner was Information Governance Lead and Data Protection Officer for CareMeds Ltd

Blog last Updated: 21.03.2022

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