Researchers develop QR codes to aid in reduction of adverse drug events

While QR codes, to date, have been used sparingly by healthcare professionals for clinical purposes, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna (Austria) and Vienna University of Technology believe they could change that narrative. They describe their creation of a "medical safety code" (MSC)--which compresses patient pharmacogenomic data into a 2-D barcode that then can be printed on a card roughly the size of a credit card--in a study published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

The primary objective for creating the MSC, according to the authors, is to help patients avoid experiencing adverse drug events or "lack of positive effects" from medication use. They say that the code could be scanned by a doctor using a smartphone or other device, and that the data could then help predict a patient's response to certain medications.

"Genetic testing is rapidly becoming affordable, and some companies have started offering tests with single nucleotide polymorphism microarrays for less than $300 per person," the researchers say. "When pharmacogenomic data of a patient are made available to physicians, it can significantly alter their prescribing behavior and lead to reduced hospitalization rates."

The researchers say that health insurance companies would subsequently benefit from reduced costs associated with adverse drug events and fewer necessary follow-up visits. Additionally, they say, the pharmaceutical industry could also benefit, as currently, many drugs fail in the latter stages of clinical trials due to "insufficient efficacy or safety" in a broad patient population.

"When both clinical trial designs and drug prescription practices can take individual pharmacogenomic markers into account, it could be possible to bring drugs to market that would otherwise have failed the requirements for safety," the researchers say.

The researchers also point out that the codes enable decision support to take place without the set up of centralized databases, something they say would likely be met with "strong public opposition," due to privacy risks involved.

"Patients can be given full control over their genetic data, just as they have full control over the content of their wallets," the researchers say.

QR codes typically are used by hospitals for marketing purposes, although some facilities have used them in patient education efforts, as well as to broadcast ER wait times to potential patients.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract