It is hoped that the scheme will help “eliminate avoidable harm” by reducing the number of times patients are administered the wrong drugs and surgery is performed on the wrong part of the body.
The scannable codes will show who administered treatment or performed a particular surgery, and allow anything from a screw in a knee operation to a replacement hip to be traced back if it becomes faulty.
It will also help doctors to compare the effectiveness of different treatments, and assist in stocktaking.
Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt said it was a “world first” in healthcare.
He said: “Using simple barcodes that major industries rely on every day will help to transform standards of care – before, during and after patients have treatment, at the same time as freeing up resources for care by reducing waste.”
The scheme is being piloted in six NHS trusts in Derby, Leeds, Salisbury, Cornwall, North Tees and Plymouth.
They report it is reducing unnecessary waste, saving staff time and providing patients with more information, the DoH said.
Early results show it could prevent deaths and save up to £1 billion for the NHS over seven years, it added.