Enabling point of care traceability

GS1 Australia
Friday, 01 April, 2022


Many of us are now far too familiar with QR codes after the past 2 years of COVID measures and are also comfortable with using them in our daily lives to access information about events, or documents, or as part of tickets and so on. But ‘2D Barcodes’ have multiple forms and are very much more than just a passing fad and fast becoming some of the most important enablers of safer and more efficient healthcare.

How you might ask, is a 2D barcode an enabler of safer and more efficient healthcare?

As healthcare systems and health providers are striving to become more digitally mature or at least aware of the possibilities of digitalisation, the understanding of the need to capture accurate data in real-time has also increased. Managing large volumes of people and products during covid vaccinations programs and managing strict protocols related to people, products and the places where they were being used in treating covid patients has also highlighted some of this need keenly.

If we step away from the current challenges though and look at the trends related to operational improvements and efficiencies gained from scanning as part of how care is delivered, the majority of these applications include at least a proportion of 2D barcodes within the process as they enable more data to be captured in a single scan. Just this one improvement removes time in areas such as theatres or pharmacies where manual checks have been necessary to record product information against patients or to manage inventory. The improvements to safety come from far greater accuracy in capturing the Who (patient and clinician) and the What (product and assets) within the care process and where the digital capability exists, by enabling a cross-check of the captured data against what was expected to occur.

Outside of clinical areas improvements to operations within the supply chain come from the added accuracy related to the management of inventory. Whether it is more accurately managing consignment stock, enabling the better management of expiry dates and reducing waste or improvements of processes related to product recalls or corrective actions.

These tiny barcodes have a huge number of benefits just in how we manage products better within the health system. Looking beyond products they are also ensuring that we capture and verify patient ID and episode details from their wristband, ensuring we capture the patient ID on related paper records when they are digitised.

The capacity of 2D barcodes and the standardised data they contain to transform processes and enable point of care traceability for healthcare is being increasingly well documented around the world in studies such as the NHS England Scan4Safety Evidence Report with reviews such as First Do No Harm supporting why the recording of unambiguous data related to patient care in real-time is critical. The NHS England is currently reviewing how that further scale the Scan4Safety implementations and benefits nationally but carrying out additional pilots to measure benefits from electronic point of care traceability.

Are your systems capable of creating and capturing 2D barcodes?

Whilst your mobile phone can scan a QR code, sadly there is some work to be done within many digital solutions to ensure that they are 2D barcode and standardised data ready. To help healthcare organisations and clinical solution providers to assess their readiness we have created a simple test card to test capability for using the 2D barcodes on products. This is particularly helpful for pharmacy applications given that new regulations such as TGO106 will increase the availability of the GS1 DataMatrix on medicines. Further test cards can be provided for other applications as needed or where organisations are implementing ISO18530 and we would encourage organisations to contact the GS1 Australia Healthcare team for advice as needed.

What are 2D Barcodes?

The 2D stands for the fact that the barcode form itself has 2 dimensions in which data can be encoded. This differs from the original types of barcodes that were linear or only had a single dimension where they could be read by machines.

What is the difference between a QR code and 2D Barcodes?

A QR code is one type of 2D Barcode. These most commonly contain a URL to take the machine scanning the code to a website. The most common type of 2D Barcode used to contain structured data in healthcare is the GS1 DataMatrix. These are common on pharmaceuticals and increasingly so on medical devices. Where they are used on products, they contain the product identifier and other important information such as Batch, Expiry Date, or a Serial Number. Where it contains the Product Identifier and the serial number this makes the product 100% uniquely identifiable within a supply chain.

GS1 DataMatrix and different types of structured data standards are used to help identify patients, locations, assets, documents and staff within care facilities, plus enable a range of other attribute data to be captured.

Learn more about implementation of GS1 standards in Healthcare: https://bit.ly/3L8umv8

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