QR Codes Could Minimize Medical Errors Made by First Responders

QR Code Name Tag

Image by CUhomepage used under a Creative Commons License

A QR code could save your life! QR codes have seen a wide array of application but most of them have been commercial- inducing buyers to check out a website, a new app, offers, and discounts, watch videos, find out where your vegetables come from and so on. But they’ve never had a life altering impact until now.

First responders in various cities are teaming up with residents to develop a database that uses QR codes to hold information that may be needed by first responders to treat a patient in an emergency. How does that work? An onsite paramedic can scan a QR code and retrieves information such as medical history, allergies, prescribed drugs a patient is currently taking etc.

What a QR code scan will do here is provide quick and accurate information about a patient and “reduce the risk of medical errors by avoiding medication or treatment that could conflict with medication the patient is taking, preexisting conditions or allergies.” [Source: medicitynews.com]

Drug mistakes are the most common recorded errors in the healthcare industry. Medication errors affect more than 1.5 million people in US each year with translates to $3.5 billion spent on related treatments. QR codes could minimize the chances of these errors by offering accurate information to first responders who can easily read this information by using a barcode scanner on their Smartphones. The information would also provide accountability when a treatment does not go the way it was planned.

Applications such as Lifesquare and Code Amber Alertag exist in the healthcare industry and provide paramedics with vital information when they are encountered with an unresponsive patient. Lifesquare uses QR code stickers and an iPhone app that provide emergency workers with health data. Code Amber Alertag provides patients with a discreet ID tag that fits on a keychain. The code on the ID tag or the Alertag can be used by first responders to access vital patient information. The person using the ID tag can upload his/her medical and contact information among other details by creating an alertag account. Others in the league of QR code assisted medical aid include ER-MedStat™  that provides its members with a reflective shield to place on the bumper or rear windshield of their vehicle. Members also receive a wallet card and a keytag containing a QR code that holds their medical information.

Privacy Issues with QR Codes

QR code scan by first responders

Image courtesy: University of Notre Dame

Anyone with a Smartphone can scan a QR code. This is the most obvious risk patients using any QR code aided medical aid will face. In a paper published by University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA, such risks are discussed and useful insights are offered on how unwanted exposure of critical medical information can be avoided. Highlights of the report include-

1. Creating a QR code that is visible on the home screen/wallpaper and can be scanned without unlocking the phone;

2. Using an iOS app called QRCScan that adjusts the amount of information visible to someone scanning a QR code;

3. Authentication of emergency responders and in what conditions can they access the detailed medical information;

4. The time-frame, the information is visible on the phone after which it is automatically deleted from the temporary memory; and

5. Encoding information during a medical emergency that is not human readable when the phone is casually held by somebody.

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