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Using 2D barcodes to improve patient experiences and streamline healthcare admin


Simon Hemmingway, healthcare director, Barcode Warehouse

Two-dimensional (2D) barcodes have emerged as the champions of the retail world, driving transformations that have reshaped the way we work, shop and interact with our surroundings. However, the benefits of 2D barcode applications have extended well beyond retail itself – to industries as diverse as healthcare, logistics and manufacturing.

A 2D barcode, or two-dimensional barcode, stores data in both horizontal and vertical directions, creating a grid of black and white squares. Unlike 1D barcodes, which consist of a single row of lines, they encode more information, like text, numbers and images, thanks to their matrix format.

2D barcodes are scanned using specialised scanners or smartphone apps equipped with camera functionality. When scanned, the encoded information is extracted, allowing for various applications, such as accessing websites, displaying text and tracking inventory.

As mentioned, 2D barcodes are now recognised as a versatile tool across a range of industries but their capacity to store more information – compared to traditional linear barcodes – makes them particularly useful in the healthcare industry. 

One of the key standards governing the use of barcodes in healthcare are the GS1 standards. These standards, established by the Global Standards One (GS1) UK organisation, provide a framework for encoding essential data. This includes batch numbers, best before or use by dates, serial numbers, and the item number itself within the 2D barcodes. The GS1 standards play a pivotal role in ensuring uniformity and accuracy in the healthcare supply chain.

As explained by GS1 UK, their barcode standards in healthcare contribute to improved patient safety, enhanced traceability, and streamlined processes. These barcodes are scanned using specialised scanners or smartphone apps equipped with camera functionality, allowing for various applications such as accessing websites, displaying text, and tracking inventory.

Customer offers and product information

Within hospitals, retail settings such as pharmacies and gift shops often exist for convenience purposes – whether you are picking up a prescription or a present for a friend or family member who’s unwell.

Here, 2D barcodes can be utilised in a number of ways by allowing customers to scan for offers and product information just like in any other retail environment. For example, a patient waiting for a repeat prescription might scan a barcode to access information about over-the-counter medications or to see discounts on certain products in the gift shop.

Healthcare information for patients

Patients can also scan 2D barcodes to access specific healthcare information related to their needs. For instance, a poster or brochure promoting flu vaccinations might include a barcode that, when scanned, directs the patient to schedule their annual flu jab appointment, or even provide educational material about the importance of vaccination in the first place.

Appointment check-in and check-out

Hospitals and medical facilities can streamline their appointment management process too by implementing QR code check-in and check-out systems.

Instead of standing in a long queue at the reception desk, patients can scan a unique QR code on their phone upon arrival to quickly check in for their appointment – and scan it again upon departure. This reduces wait times and improves administrative efficiency for the reception team.

Hospital wayfinding

Navigating large hospital buildings can be challenging for patients, visitors and even staff at times, with the small signs and long corridors. However, 2D barcodes can help here if they are placed strategically in the building, enabling individuals to locate themselves by scanning codes placed at key points or intersections. 

To prevent people from getting lost in hospitals and being late for an appointment, these codes can direct users to digital maps or provide turn-by-turn directions to their appointment location.

Parking payment and prepayment

Hospitals often have limited parking space which can cause serious problems for both staff and patients.

To avoid the stress of people running late for work or an appointment, managing parking payments efficiently at hospitals is crucial. QR codes can facilitate parking payments by allowing users to scan a code displayed at the parking lot entrance or exit using their smartphones. 

This enables convenient payment processing, including prepayment options and reduces the need for physical payment machines at hospital car parks.

Secure access to patient records

While accessing patient records via QR codes at the bedside might not be practical due to security concerns, there are still ways to implement secure access. 

For instance, medical professionals can use QR codes to initiate an authentication process that grants them access to patient records on a trusted platform. This often requires multi-factor authentication and encryption to ensure that only authorised personnel can access the sensitive medical information, as opposed to other patients on the ward.

Food ordering and pickup

Hospitals often have cafeterias or coffee shops where patients, visitors and staff purchase food or hot drinks for their caffeine hit after a particularly long night. QR codes help here by streamlining the order process, allowing customers to scan a code at the counter or table which then directs them to an online menu or ordering platform. 

This makes the food service experience much more efficient and convenient for both dine-in and click-and-collect orders, especially for hospital workers who want to grab a coffee on-the-go.

Overall, 2D barcodes are playing an important role in modernising healthcare operations and enhancing patient experiences – and the value of this shouldn’t be understated, seeing as these environments are typically quite stressful. From facilitating retail transactions to streamlining appointment management and accessing medical records securely, these barcodes offer multifaceted solutions. 


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