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Barcoding the healthcare world

In our daily lives we hardly give the barcode a second thought. We only really come across it when we're shopping and even then, it's merely a bunch of lines and spaces that helps us process the transaction and buy an item.
Image source: Getty/Gallo
But the barcode is so much more than that. It powers everything from shopping to dining out, to healthcare and even logistics. It is estimated that it is used on more than a trillion possible products worldwide and this number will only increase as more products and services are being created.

While this might sound like an over exaggeration, it is not. The barcode, from its humble beginnings, has become one of the most essential tools of modern life. The famous song lyric tells us that, “money makes the world go round,” but in our current, always-on and connected world, it is in fact the barcode.

The best in health bar none


The barcode was invented in 1952 by Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver and was inspired by Morse code. Its first use was on American railroads in the 1960s and involved placing colored stripes in various combinations on steel plates fixed to the sides of railroad stock. It wasn’t until an additional decade of adaptation that the barcode was trialed in a Kroger US grocery store, opening the door for the barcode’s inclusion in everyday life.

In hospitals and the pharmaceutical sector, the barcode is enhancing processes.

Even today, many healthcare systems still rely on handwritten documents which can lead to mistakes stemming from illegible handwriting and fading ink. This is where the barcode brings multiple benefits.

Instead of using paper and pen to manually document treatment, barcodes and scanners can be implemented along with a patient identity management solution to accurately and quickly match patients to their records, medication and treatments. This ensures mistakes are kept to a minimum, while patients receive the right care.

Such benefits can also be seen across an entire healthcare facility. To ensure care teams can communicate and work together to assist multiple patients, institutions are adopting healthcare mobility solutions. These solutions enable hospital staff to reliably communicate with each other and quickly and securely provide critical medical information. Patient data can also be collected and shared in real-time, providing access to patient vitals, diagnoses, imaging and much, much more. This all equates to workflow efficiency improvements and a reduction in false alarms, notifications and most importantly, fatalities.

Finally, the barcode is being used to monitor the health of the institution itself. From physical assets like an MRI machine to the staff, it can help enhance real-time data sharing and analytics, making the facility even more efficient and effective.

According to the World Health Organisation, about 700,000 deaths worldwide every year are caused by the sale of counterfeit medicines. No country is immune from this scourge, with traffickers primarily targeting anti-cancer drugs which can carry an annual treatment cost of more than $50,000.

Thanks to a unique identification code, specific to each unit being sold, the origin and composition of a product could easily be ascertained. Using a basic 2D barcode flash, distributors would be able to follow their listed products in real time anywhere in the world. In the example of a bacterial contamination, distributors could react quickly to prevent it from reaching consumers.

Track and trace


The barcode is also playing a crucial role across industry in tracking and tracing items by knowing the location of any item in the world. This is something many industries need now.

In the healthcare sector, more than 400,000 pharmacies in Europe will be impacted by the new European Directive entitled the Falsified Medicines Directive to outlaw fake and illegal medication floating through the supply chain.

It is estimated that one percent of medicines sold to the EU public through the legal supply chain are fake. Under the directive, safety features will need to be placed on individual packs so that they can be identified, and authenticity is guaranteed. These will also allow pharmacists to check if the outer packaging has been tampered with.

The intent of this measure is to prevent the introduction of illegal medicine into the legal supply chain. This means pharmaceutical industry players must consolidate their medicine traceability practices to fight a rise in counterfeiting.

Thanks to a unique identification code, specific to each unit, the origin and composition of a product could easily be ascertained. Using a basic 2D barcode flash, distributors would be able to follow their listed products in real time anywhere in the world.

As for the future, the barcode is here to stay. Its journey is not even a decade old and we have seen such innovative and life-saving developments that its value will only increase, being critical to the success of global industries and re-writing the future in lines, small squares, radio frequencies and much more.
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