Introduction to Healthcare Coding Series: NDC

Healthcare Coding Series: NDC CODES blog post

The National Drug Code (NDC) is a powerful tool that lies at the heart of the United States’ healthcare system. Designed as a unique 10-digit identifier, the NDC code plays a critical role in the medical field. Created by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1969, its primary function is identifying prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. The NDC system has since evolved to streamline electronic processing and tracking of medications.

It’s now a critical component in improving patient care, ensuring accuracy and enhancing healthcare outcomes. This coding system has provided new ways for healthcare information interoperability. NDC codes have had an impact electronic prescribing and medication reconciliation, as well as in medication recall situations. Thus, the  codingsystem has enabled the medical field to provide better care.

Evolution of the NDC Codes

Initially, the NDC code was designed to be an 11-digit code that consisted of three segments: 

  1. The first segment, which had five digits, represented the labeler code. This identified the manufacturer or distributor of the medication.
  2. The second segment, which had four digits, represented the product code. This identified the specific medication and its strength, dosage form and formulation.
  3. The third segment, which had two digits, represented the package code. This identified the size and type of package.

In 1990, the NDC code was expanded to include a leading zero. Thus, This it changed to a 12-digit code, which is the current format. The first five digits still represent the labeler code. This is then followed by four digits for the product code and the two digits for the package code.  

Importance in Healthcare

The NDC code is an essential component of medication identification and tracking in the U.S. healthcare system. More specifically, most EHR technology relies on the NDC code for patient’s health data.

This information is used to determine drug-to-drug allergies and interactions. It is used by pharmacies, healthcare providers, insurance companies and other stakeholders. These groups are then able to track medication use, ensure accurate billing and monitor adverse drug events.  

Support for Electronic Prescribing and Medication Reconciliation

NDC codes also support electronic prescribing and medication reconciliation, which are critical components of patient-centered care. Electronic prescribing enables healthcare providers to send prescriptions directly to pharmacies, reducing the risk of errors and improving medication adherence. By using a standardized coding system, healthcare professionals and providers can ensure that medication information is accurately and consistently represented. This is the case even if it’s coming from different sources or systems.  

Role of NDC Code in Medication Recall

In a medication recall, the NDC code is imperative. Through this information, the FDA and other regulatory agencies can identify the specific medication and its manufacturer that’s being recalled. This is important because medication recalls are typically initiated when a safety issue is identified with a specific batch or lot of medication, and the recall is limited to those specific products.

By using the NDC code, the FDA can quickly and accurately identify which products are affected by the recall. Then, they can take action and initiate a product retrieval. An EHR system has ways to record the lot numbers of medications administered to patients.

Thus, healthcare providers can assist with the retrieval and/or identify those patients who may be affected by the recall. The NDC code plays a critical role in patient safety.  

Overall, NDC codes are a critical component of patient safety and healthcare interoperability. Additionally, they enable healthcare providers and organizations to exchange and use medication information more effectively and efficiently. This particular code system clearly improves patient care and outcomes. Embrace the power of NDC codes, and each patient can receive the care they need with confidence.