QR What? Leveraging 2D Codes for Public Health

Link to Pulse + Signal Job BoardHave you noticed images like the one to the right sprouting up at every turn? I have. That, my dear readers, is a QR code, and it’s one trendy, useful piece of technology.

These 2-dimensional codes were developed by Denso Wave, a manufacturer of automatic data capture technology, and released to the market in 1994. QR stands for “quick response” and these symbols can serve up a large amount of data with a swift scan. They stand up to more dirt and damage than traditional codes with error-correction encoding. They are omni-directional (i.e. they can be read from any angle). One QR code can store 16 individual codes. And, they are able to leap tall building in a single bound. Well, perhaps not that last one. If you’re interested in a few stats on this subject, head over to Social Wayne’s blog and check out his post on the subject, complete with infographic.

To read a QR code, a scanner must be installed on your mobile phone (your phone must also have a camera). A number of scanners are available free for download. Examples of types of data that can be stored in a QR code are:

  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Contact information in the form of a virtual business card
  • Event details
  • URL
  • Geo location
  • Simple text
  • SMS (pre-populates the number and message)
  • MMS
  • WiFi configuration

This list is by no means exhaustive and clever programmers are expanding the utility of QR codes rapidly. After reading this list, are you also contemplating the ways we can leverage this technology in the public health realm? Curious about how this channel is being used, if at all, by healthcare and public health professionals, I scoured the internet for examples, and when few turned up, I put out a call via Twitter with some success.

Condensing member information on health insurance forms: Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Excellus is now incorporating a QR Code that directs people to learn more or obtain more of their information via QR Code. Because a QR Code can take half of the information that previous required multiple print pages and consolidate it to a singe sheet or two they are realizing a savings on their printing costs.

Driving traffic to a mobile Website: Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals points readers of a Uloric (gout medication) advertisement to a mobile Website.

Opt-in for reminders: American Cancer Society.

The American Cancer Society leveraged QR code technology to drive users to a highly targeted mobile Website allowing users to sign-up for reminders about their breas cancer walk, send alerts to friends and donate to their cause.

Driving traffic to a mobile app: Curatio CME Institute.

Curatio used the bar code to the left to drive clinicians to a mobile application of their Clinical Educator pocket tool. They used an other code on the front panel of a hematology symposium program book so participating physicians could access the Power Point slides on their mobile device.

QR Codes as an Assistive Technology

Digit-Eyes is an iPhone 3G app for the blind and visually impaired community. It makes text or audio QR Code labels you can read with your iPhone.

My hope is to see more and varied uses of QR code technology in the public health space in the near future. If you know of other examples, please tell me about them in the comments! Would also love your thoughts on how you can imagine how these lovely little codes could be leveraged for improvement of public health.

– Bridgette
Want a QR code reader on your device? Check out Mobile Barcodes’ list of best scanners. You can also check out a quick demo here.

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