Next-Generation Bar Coding Can Revolutionize Health Care Promotion

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Topin & Associates

Imagine standing at your medicine cabinet scanning a prescription pill bottle with the camera on your smart phone and immediately calling up detailed consumer product information. Imagine an ER physician scanning a 2-D bar code on a patient’s driver’s license and having detailed medical information at his fingertips.

Bar coding technology has been in existence for decades. In the consumer world, we’re perhaps most familiar with its use in retail sales and inventory tracking. In the realm of health care, bar coding has a more expanded role: not only does it help track product inventory, but it also has helped to increase hospital workflow efficiency, promote fiscal savings, and — most importantly — improve patient safety. A New Twist on an Old Technology Bar coding and its applications have taken a new twist, thanks to a new generation of technology. The standard linear one-dimensional (1-D) bar code — a symbol consisting of parallel lines, spaces, and numbers — is now joined by two-dimensional (2-D) coding, which employs geometric patterns of squares, hexagons, or other shapes. The 2-D code format isn’t just a graphic repackaging of an old technology for the sake of novelty; it also offers greater potential for usage. The 2-D coding has a significantly higher data capacity for transmission compared to 1-D bar codes. Additionally, 2-D codes do not require specialized scanning or reading equipment; all that’s necessary is simple software that can be installed on almost any device with a camera, such as a smart phone. And the really amazing piece of innovation that 2-D coding brings to the market? Anyone can do it anywhere — in a store, on a bus, in a doctor’s office, or next to your medicine cabinet. All anyone needs is a computer to create a 2-D code and a device with a camera, like a smart phone or PDA, to read it. Endless Barcode Possibilities As always, the consumer market — most notably in Asia, with Europe and the United States trailing behind — is leading by example. Mainstream companies such as Pepsi and McDonald’s are already in the game overseas. Pepsi leveraged the technology to allow consumers to zap a 2-D code on their bottles to find out calorie information or enter a contest. McDonald’s followed suit, placing 2-D codes on food packaging to provide nutritional information to customers. In fact, in Japan, QR codes (one of the many 2-D code formats that exist) are on everything from billboards to bananas —even tombstones. The possibilities for health care marketing and promotional materials are no less exciting. When marketing to health care professionals, 2-D bar codes could be incorporated into print materials to lead readers to a Web site or enter them into a promotion. They could be used as a way to “hard link” objects in the real world at a trade show to additional product information online. Patient education materials could also be revolutionized. For example, use of a 2-D code on a waiting room poster could allow patients to pass the time before their examination by scanning the code and downloading the poster, or any other relevant information, onto their phones. The code might have a link to a Web site allowing patients to sign up for daily, weekly, or monthly reminders about their medication regimens or upcoming check-ups. Another use might be for placement on sample packaging: patients receiving those samples could scan the 2-D code and be directed immediately to additional online resources or to disease-specific support groups. The possibilities are endless. I can imagine a future where almost everything has one of these little bar codes. You can create your own online at or or Warning: it’s addictive. I just 2-D coded a new tag for my dog. n Bar coding and its applications have taken a new twist, thanks to a new generation of technology. The possibilities for health care marketing and promotional materials are endless. Barclay Missen Director of Digital Communications Topin & AssociateS Inc. is a health care marketing agency that specializes in strategic marketing for health care, medical, and pharmaceutical clients whose capabilities include innovative marketing, creative, production, multimedia, and Web development. For more information, visit

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