Are QR codes in your hospital's clinical future?

QR codes have a solid place in hospital marketing and public relations--helping patients to learn about the hospital's services, get reminders about important appointments, and more.

But now ubiquitous little barcode squares are moving into the clinical side of healthcare. A year-long pilot project in Marin County, Calif., turned the codes into on-the-spot patient information resources for EMTs.

Two emergency response agencies in the county partnered up with Lifesquare, a QR code developer, and distributed QR stickers at local CVS pharmacies. Patients loaded up the codes with their medication lists, which then were embedded on the stickers. Afterward, patients were asked to place the stickers somewhere easily accessible for emergency workers in a crisis--like on a cell phone, for example.

Now EMTs can read the codes in people's homes on their iPhones, and have an instant list of the patient's medical conditions, medications and other information, according to a story at ITworld.

"It could benefit so many folks," Mike Giannini, Marin County Fire Department EMS Battalion Chief, tells ITworld. "The consumer for the piece of mind, us for information at the scene, it's just a time-saving piece and beyond that it could do so much for health care at a much larger, grander scale if physicians embrace it."

And that may just be the beginning of the clinical applications of QR codes. We told you last fall about a patient safety program based on QR codes. It wasn't directly clinical care, but certainly was designed to help patients understand clinician handwashing protocols, preventing surgical infections, and more.

Additionally, some experts predict that QR codes eventually will be used for:

  • Patient wristbands that communicate patient information quickly and easily when scanned.
  • Post-discharge follow-up: Patients that take home medical devices like ventilation machines will have QR codes on the machine that link to how-to videos on their use.
  • Temporary "tattoo" QR codes: These can be placed on dementia patients, so they can be scanned if the patient is found wandering away from home.
  • Medication lists: Doctors and hospitals, like the Marin County EMTs, can link patients' medication lists to a QR code, making it easy to access and track.

I also had a thought about implantable medical devices--and the possibility of tattoo QR codes that allow clinicians to regularly check their status. Just last month, I wrote about a scanner device that is placed just under the skin, but has to be read with special readers via UV light, audio signals or other means. It might only be one more step to build the scanning capability into a QR code that's more easily read.

Anyone else out there using QR codes in the clinical environment? Let me know--I'm getting pretty excited about the technology's potential. - Sara