Health News Digest

November 12, 2012

QR Codes In Health Care

QR Code

By  Michael D. Shaw

Familiar to most smart phone users, the QR Code (short for Quick Response Code) has been around since 1994. Originally developed for the automotive industry, QR Codes are a significant improvement over the one-dimensional bar codes most commonly used for inventory control and retail point-of-purchase price scanning.

At present, there are six different versions of QR codes. The smallest, Version 1, can contain 25 alphanumeric characters. The largest, Version 40, can contain 4096 alphanumeric characters. Compare this to the 13 numeric digit limitation of the standard UPC one-dimensional bar codes.

Around three years ago, QR codes began to appear in all sorts of print media, and typically contained links to the advertiser’s website. With a variety of free QR code reader apps available for camera-equipped smart phones, the technology was widely accepted within a short time. Deployed in this manner, QR Codes became the interface between print and digital media.

The notion of “reading” an analog or fixed object would soon be expanded. Apps such as Google Goggles enable a sort of visual search, whereby sundry items—including artwork, books, business card contact information, and landmarks—can be scanned, and relevant information obtained. Certainly, QR Codes have numerous applications in health care. Last year, journo and self-described proud techno-geek Sara Jackson detailed a few of them in FierceMobileHealthcare‘s weekly newsletter…

  • Hospital facility tours and maps
  • Patient education
  • Patient health/allergy warnings for caregivers
  • Patient testimonials. Get immediate feedback.
  • Setting appointments, via codes in newspapers, magazines, and postcard ads

Not surprisingly, a major use of QR codes is marketing. I recently got some insight on this from Dale Rennie, founder and CEO of OMS Asia—an integrated digital marketing firm. The company has recently introduced GrapevineQR Viral, which they refer to as “The Cure for the Common Code.”

As Dale explained:

The Grapevine QR Viral code is placed on any promotional material produced by the medical facility, such as “Scan here to receive a 20% discount on your annual physical.” With a single scan of the code from a prospective patient who provides their name and email address, this tool generates a Facebook “Like,” which is posted on that person’s Facebook Wall. And, since the average Facebook account contains 229 friends, according to a Pew Research Group Study, there is considerable opportunity for a single scan to become a viral phenomenon.

At the same time, the patient’s contact information is added to a secure database set up on our server, for further marketing purposes. This can all be accomplished with our easy-to-use dashboard. We even provide two free campaigns to get you started. It’s simple and fun.

Ken Honeywell, partner/creative director of Indianapolis-based Well Done Marketing recommends these uses (among others) of QR codes in health care marketing:

Post-procedure instructions—A QR code can link patients with online documents that provide instructions on how to care for themselves after a procedure, physical therapy videos, and more.

Physician-to-physician communications—There’s no reason to use QR codes only for patient communications: docs use smart phones, too. You can use QR codes to provide contact information for referrals, show videos of procedures, and profile your practice.

As with all marketing tools, though, it is important to avoid the pitfalls. A few months ago, veteran health care reporter and editor Gienna Shaw (no relation) posted an article entitled “QR code fails: How marketers are ruining potential patient engagement tool.”

For starters, she refers to a QR code on a subway station billboard, posted on the wall across from the tracks, behind the third rail. And then there are numerous cases of a QR Code which links to a website not at all optimized for mobile use. Her most obvious good advice? “Don’t put a QR code on a poster about any medical condition unless you personally would be willing to stand up in a room full of strangers and shout that you’d like more information about it.”

Let your imagination wander…