QR Codes in Health Care

Written by on February 2, 2012 in Features, Research & Technology - No comments
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By Abraham Whaley and Mary Pat Whaley, FACMPE

As health care embraces technology to improve patient outcomes, streamline operations and lower costs, the technologies that have the most impact are those that make things simpler. One of the most basic ways to do this is to remove friction. The electronic medical record (EHR) elevates the hassles of paper records – finding, handling, storing and securing them – all the things that can get between the critical information on the page and the physician who needs it. A smartphone eliminates the necessity of being near a desktop to read and send email, get contact information and securely access practice documents and patient data. This technology provides value by simplifying a process to its core so that time, effort and resources aren’t wasted on mishaps, transportation and basic human inertia.

Now, think about your practice’s website: the basic information and elevator pitch that you want to communicate to existing and prospective patients. Your content is the reason you have a website in the first place and you should always be looking for ways to get more eyes in front of it. Email lists, Facebook, Twitter, direct mail and practice brochures are all designed to connect people with your information and drive business to your practice. If someone sees a link to your website while they’re at their computer, the only friction you’ll encounter is getting them to click to go to your page. But what about all the mobile time your potential customers spend? If they see an advertisement – TV, billboard, print – that has the URL (web address) you want to send them to, they will have to bypass a lot of friction before they see your content. They have to:

  • Commit to going to the website later.
  • Remember the URL, and why they wanted to go there.
  • Follow through with this commitment.
  • Type the URL into their browser.

With social media and email campaigns that are usually accessed through Internet enabled PCs or mobile devices, a simple link enables you to bypass this friction because there’s a chance that your customer will either click the link immediately or bookmark it to check it out later (enabling a much easier recall). With print, public and televised advertising campaigns, the odds are the customer doesn’t have either:

  • An internet enabled device on them at the moment.
  • The time or inclination to check out the website immediately.

So how can you overcome this and get the benefits of a simple link in a “real world” marketing situation? One method that is growing in popularity is the use of quick response (QR) codes.

A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode that can be read by a smartphone to communicate a piece of information: text, a phone number or a web address. Most of the QR codes themselves are a small jumble of black and white pixilated dots that resemble a “digital bacteria” or some sort of computer life form. But in many ways, QR codes are like hyperlinks that exist in our physical lives. By installing a small software program on your mobile device, and then taking a picture of the code with your smartphone, you can immediately access the information embedded within.

  • See a newspaper ad about a sale at one of your favorite stores, and scan the QR code to get a link to a coupon for an additional discount or register to be informed about upcoming sales.
  • See a TV commercial about a new restaurant, scanning the QR code on TV leads your smartphone to a website to make reservations for dinner or receive a dinner special.
  • See a poster at a health fair booth and scan the QR code to get an instant calculator app that gives you exercise options that are suitable for someone your age and level of physical fitness.

QR codes smooth the entire education process by removing the friction caused by simply telling someone about web content without giving them the ability to access it automatically. A QR code on a brochure can facilitate initial contact with a patient by sending them to a website to get more information or book an appointment. When a patient is given a phone number to call for more info, or even just the practice’s web address, the patient has to “go the rest of the way” on their own. A QR code is an effective way to improve your organization’s image on both the technical and user friendly fronts, and flexible enough to handle several applications in your practice:

  • Flyers about annual checkup services – blood pressure, weight management, mammograms – that your patients see as they leave your practice (often when most motivated to seek additional services) can include  QR codes that link them to general information sites, government warnings, approved resource sites, treatment communities or direct them to your website or blog.
  • Advertisements for surgical procedures that contain QR codes can provide access to patient testimonials or a landing page to submit requests for more information.

By simplifying the process of fulfilling a patient’s request to “tell me more”, QR codes give practices an easy (and did I mention free?) way to build relationships, influence patient health choices and outcomes, direct patients to the content you intended for them to see and send the message that your practice is on the leading edge of technology.

Mary Pat Whaley, FACMPE
is board certified in health care management and a Fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives. She has worked in health care and health care management for 25 years. She can be contacted at marypatwhaley@gmail.com.

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