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QR Codes: Top 4 Things Healthcare Providers Should Know

Anyone following the news publications recently may have come across what has become an increasingly prolific technological trend, thrust more prominently into the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic: QR codes. In a survey conducted conjointly between Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Visa Inc., and GfK, 4% of all consumer transactions completed worldwide are processed via QR codes. What initially was a digital tool geared more for marketing and operations-related use cases has now expanded its scope into alternate applications, namely within the healthcare sector.

So, what are QR codes and how can they be used to positively impact patient care delivery and healthcare in general presently as well as in the future? This article will examine key elements about this dynamic new technology by addressing:

 

What is a QR Code?

In 1994, Japanese automotive company, Denso Wave, developed a type of two-dimensional barcode, Quick Response Code, which is now widely known as a “QR code”. Consisting of a machine-readable optical label containing information about the item to which it is attributed, most specifically data for a locator, identifier, or tracker that refers to a website or application.

The distinctive appearance of a QR code entails black squares arranged in a square grid on a white background. The square-shaped image can be read using an imaging device such as a camera, and then interpreted via a processing code system called Reed-Solomon error correction. The embedded data within the QR code is extracted from its vertical and horizontal components.

Applications of QR Codes

In comparison to standard UPC barcodes, the Quick Response (QR) system’s inherent rapid readability and greater storage capacity facilitated its rise in popularity outside the automotive industry. Alternative applications have come to include item identification, product and time tracking, document management, and general marketing.

As for Medical Applications…

According to a study conducted by Juniper Research, it is projected that approximately one billion smartphones will access QR codes by 2022. This fourfold growth is driven by a sharp increase of QR reader integration on mobile devices which can be largely attributed to specific verticals such as the healthcare and wellbeing sectors.

The landscape of leveraging the innovative potential of QR code technology within the medical milieu/arena is a developing one. Currently, clinical applications of QR codes are being observed in the implementation of digital health apps and healthcare-related processes and procedures slated for digitization (e.g., reporting, patient data transmission, etc.). For healthcare providers, the greatest draw towards adopting QR code-powered innovation is “’trust chain’ guaranteed” data security. In a time where encrypted security and medical record keeping compliance is top-of-mind with many healthcare organization decision makers, a QR code offers peace-of-mind as it is “a one-time code that cannot be forged or faked because it is only valid for several seconds.”

Healthcare-Specific Use Cases of QR Codes

Since their inception, many industry sectors, including healthcare, have embraced its technology, and incorporated it to streamline various operational processes and workflows. It goes without saying that QR codes are becoming a tremendous asset to organizations seeking to evolve their patient care models, particularly where telehealth and telemedicine is concerned. To provide an overview of current uses, here is a snapshot to consider:

  • Drug packaging and safety – Advanced QR coded labelling on drug packaging and prescriptions ensures patient health safety as well as assist in drug authenticity verification while eliminating drug counterfeit smuggling.
  • Patient identification access – Health workers and clinicians can more easily access patient profiles and medical history using, for instance, QR coded badges. Embedded QR codes can also facilitate quick and easy data sharing between care teams and clinicians.
  • Elderly patient tracing – Hospitals and other care facilities treating elderly patients can safeguard their safety (i.e., avoid lost or “walk-aways”) by leveraging QR-coded tracking tools.
  • Remote patient monitoring – Healthcare providers may be able to track their patients’ physiological data, frequency with which patients take their medication, progress of patient treatment or maintenance plans, etc.
  • Healthcare equipment (maintenance) – Equipment servicing can be executed faster by technicians and operators accessing QR code embedded documentation such as schematics, user manuals and operating instructions, maintenance reports, service logs, etc.
  • Healthcare marketing This John Roberts-produced whitepaper outlines how healthcare organizations can successfully leverage QR code technology to create more engaging, dynamic marketing strategies.

 

Benefits of QR Codes in healthcare

In addition to enhanced data security capabilities, QR codes play a central role in helping to provide a seamless user experience tailored for “frictionless” convenience and foster optimal interoperability. Let’s look at some of the leading benefits healthcare organizations may foresee experiencing upon implementing QR code-driven technologies. According to QR Tiger, QR codes used within the healthcare facility environment can assist in:

  • Enhancing patient outcomes [and] care delivery processes”, resulting in improved quality of service to patients.
  • Promoting “work efficiency among healthcare providers and will reduce the unnecessary job process.”
  • Implementing social distancing “as it only requires a smartphone camera reader to scan the QR code minimizing the human interaction.”

 

Future Potential of QR Codes in Health

As the future of healthcare evolves to more streamlined workflows, digitized processes, and enhanced patient care, QR code technology continues to inspire opportunities for innovation.

Edible QR codes may be the next step towards advanced medication production and delivery. University of Copenhagen researchers in collaboration with colleagues from Finland’s Åbo Akademi University have devised a way to “print medical drugs in QR coded patterns onto an edible material.” Though mass or onsite production has yet to be determined, this development already shows tremendous promise – via a quick scan of a QR code – in being pivotal towards allowing healthcare providers to tailor medications to their patients’ needs, ensuring drug dosage and integrity while combating drug forgery.

According to the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025, the digital transformation of healthcare will hinge on a vast variety of Internet of things-related technologies in parallel with QR codes including artificial intelligence (AI), smart wearables, remote monitoring, blockchain, and big data analytics.

Wrap-Up

As seamless, contactless transactions become a standard requirement in various sectors, including healthcare, QR codes are consequentially becoming a cornerstone in the implementation of new digitized systems and procedures. In understanding how QR codes were developed, how they have been utilized, the immediate benefits of their adoption, and being open to the possibilities of how they can be incorporated into future advancements, healthcare providers are better able to ensure the patient care their organizations provide is responsive, holistic, and best-in-class.

 

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