Another win for real folks — 2D barcodes on vaccines!

Ryan Champlin over at Cook Children’s is a really neat guy. He and his team are super-focused on creating solutions that make things better. They don’t get confused by what’s hard, or not perfect, or messy --- not when the end result is taking better care of kids. For the last couple of years we’ve been working with Cook and athenahealth to ensure that, especially in the emergency department, doctors get a comprehensive view of incoming patients --- past hospital visits AND outpatient visits, using Amalga. Ryan has been a huge driver of this effort and it’s incredibly rewarding to hear him talk about the impact.  

I first met Ryan in person over the summer, at a great dinner at the Stone House in Redmond, WA. During the meal our discussion turned to a project he was working on to get 2D barcodes printed on vaccine vials. Why 2D barcodes? They can hold a ton of information, so with a quick scan the EMR can be populated with the NDC code, lot number, expiration date, and even more. WAY better than the “sticker method” we’ve used with paper charts, or the slightly better linear barcodes that can only hold NDC. When you add lot numbers and expiration dates, you can really improve quality of care. Obviously the EMR can serve as a second set of eyes to warn about expired vaccines, but even cooler, determining who received shots from a recalled lot becomes a simple database query --- W00T!

Well, the FDA extended the guidelines to allow 2D, and just today Cook, athenahealth, Microsoft, Sanofi Pasteur and Merck announced the first use of these barcodes on real vaccines.

So cool … but what also became obvious during that dinner conversation was that patients could make incredible use of the barcodes. Scanning 2D codes with mobile phones is becoming everyday business thanks to the popularity of technologies like QR and Microsoft Tag. So we figured, why not give patients a mobile app to scan the vaccines and add the information automatically to a lifetime, personally-controlled HealthVault record? As a parent of two kids, I know how important immunization data can be.

Why not indeed --- so we did some testing and found that, while the tiny size of the vaccine bottles does put a bit of stress on the reading code, it’s eminently doable and we’re going to make it happen. We have a prototype running now, and as we continue to grow our mobile functionality and the barcodes become prevalent, you’ll see it start to roll in.

What a fantastic outcome --- accurate, rich data for patients and doctors with a swipe of a scanner or click of a phone. We need more solutions like this --- and more folks like Ryan working in health!

Note 10/15/2011, edited to spell Ryan's last name right! How embarassing.....

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