By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
We know that today’s healthcare consumers want instant and accessible services.
The QR code allows hospitals and healthcare providers to satisfy this need with immediate physician-patient interaction and engagement – all through smartphones and tablets.
Placed strategically, the QR code does wonders for marketing. And today more than ever, they are considered the green, hygienic, and convenient alternative to printed or shared materials.
Ready to start leveraging QR code technology and stay ahead of your competition?
In this blog post, you’ll learn:
- Why QR codes have made a comeback,
- When to use them,
- And, 8 ways to improve the patient experience and drive leads with QR codes.
Before we dive in, let’s discuss QR codes related to patient privacy and HIPAA compliance.
According to QServi, a HIPAA-compliant digital identity and credentialing platform, healthcare professionals can easily link patients to their protected health information using temporary, dynamic QR codes. These codes facilitate the transfer of protected health information securely using a function known as cryptographic hashing. In simple terms, a hash function is a unique identifier for any given piece of content. It’s also a process that converts plain data into unique encrypted text using a sophisticated encryption algorithm.
As we continue to see higher adoption rates of QR codes in the healthcare industry, privacy safeguards like these are essential due to the regulatory nature of the industry.
History of QR Codes in Healthcare Marketing
Quick Response (QR) codes were invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara, an engineer at Denso Wave (a subsidiary of the Japanese auto company Denso). Denso Wave is a leader in developing and manufacturing automatic data capture devices for barcodes, QR codes, and radio-frequency identification (RFID).
A board game called “Go” inspired the initial QR code design, and its purpose was to expedite component scanning and minimize loss during vehicle manufacturing.
Unlike barcodes, which store data one-dimensionally, QR codes store data in two dimensions. QR codes can embed 200 times more information than a standard barcode with its unique pattern.
Healthcare advertisers began experimenting with QR codes in the late 2000s, but it was never truly embraced by consumers or patients for two reasons:
In the early years of QR code advertising, consumers had to download a third-party app to scan and decode the information stored in the label’s black squares, lines, and white space. At that time, the smartphone camera did not have this capability built in.
Some say QR codes were ahead of their time, and I agree. They were solving a problem that didn’t exist—yet. As a result, they remained a novelty, a curiosity seen nearly everywhere but primarily ignored among U.S. consumers.
The Resurgence of QR Codes in Health & Pharma
QR codes surged into popularity among U.S. consumers at the beginning of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Suddenly the safety of contactless, hygienic interactions became a necessity. Though concerns about contracting COVID-19 through infected surfaces were eventually proven overwrought, people continue to embrace QR codes across many industries, including healthcare.
Moreover, smartphones are now equipped to scan and decode QR code information directly in the camera app—third-party apps are no longer required.
Now, QR codes are being used as an alternative to handheld pamphlets in waiting rooms and educational charts on the examination room walls. As an added benefit, healthcare consumers and patients can access this information even after leaving the office.
QR codes are also proving valuable for storing confidential patient information. Healthcare providers can scan QR codes on patient wristbands or medication labels during their hospital stays or appointments. One quick scan and providers can see a patient’s dosing information, contraindications, and comorbidities.
In this day and age when everyone wants to be contactless, the applications in healthcare are limitless:
- Patient education
- Patient verification
- Prescription refills
- Drug information
- Elderly care
- Patient marketing
- Patient payment
- 3D instructional video for medical devices
- And more
QR codes give healthcare providers access to more detailed patient information more quickly. Not only that, but they also promote interaction and engagement through smartphones, opening an exciting, new, and vast marketing channel as more than 84% of households own at least one smartphone.
Let’s look at the rising popularity of QR codes among U.S. households.
QR Code Statistics
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes continue to gain traction. According to Statista, 11 million households scanned a QR code in 2020—over 2 million more than in 2018—and that number continues to rise. This highlights the fact that consumers embraced contactless trends during the height of the pandemic and showed no signs of slowing down.
The internet is the most accessible place for consumers to find information, with 7% of all daily online searches being health-related (more than 420 million). QR codes can help healthcare professionals engage with a larger audience by providing instant access to valuable information, enhancing their in-office or aftercare experience.
Understanding which generations are using QR codes the most will help you identify optimal placement (e.g., paid search ads, posters, flyers, email, social media, etc.) for your hospital, health system, or medical practice.
Let’s look at a few statistics from QR-Tiger, one of the most advanced QR code generators available. QR-Tiger found that consumers between 24-54 had the most interaction with QR codes. Let’s break that down into generations:
Though older patients may not be aware of QR technology, 86% have a smartphone. If you see the value of including QR codes in your marketing and your demographics are in the 60+ range, a little education can go a long way toward adoption. I recommend educating older patients on the convenience of accessing health information via a QR code.
A Note of Caution
Before we get into leading-edge uses for QR codes that improve the patient experience and drive more leads to your business, I need to address patent trolls. Patent trolls are entities that buy patents for the express purpose of trying to extort money from people or businesses.
Out of an abundance of caution, if you’re planning a marketing campaign that includes QR codes, I recommend running it by your legal department first.
While this is not intended as legal advice, I also recommend avoiding the use of URL shorteners in your QR codes. Based on the law blogs below, patent trolls commonly leverage the use of link shorteners to claim your organization is infringing on their patents:
As the saying goes, it only takes one bad troll to spoil an effective marketing campaign.
Onward to the benefits.
8 Ways to Improve the Patient Experience & Drive Leads with QR Codes
QR codes are ideal for any healthcare marketing effort, especially in our peri-pandemic world. Linking QR codes to websites, landing pages, blogs, videos, podcasts, and other online health information can grow brand awareness and significantly improve the patient experience by providing streamlined access to appointments, educational information, personal health information, and direct communication with health care providers.
Putting patient needs and expectations front and center in your marketing strategy can positively impact business growth, profits, and reputation.
Here are eight ways strategic use of QR codes can enhance the patient experience and drive leads to your hospital:
1. Traditional and Digital Marketing
Use QR codes in offline and online marketing materials, including:
- Examination and waiting room posters
- Newsletters and flyers
- Educational materials (e.g., health tips, advice, aftercare instructions)
- Print advertisements (e.g., business cards, magazines, newspapers)
- Outdoor billboards and other community display areas
- Medical publications and journals
- Physicians bios
- Health insurance profiles
- Online advertisements
- LinkedIn and Facebook pages
- Webinars and podcasts
- Location maps (to help patients find your office)
- Contact us page (to send contact information directly to smartphones)
2. Patient Identity Management
Effective and secure patient identity management is a crucial part of healthcare. Use QR codes to help providers avoid severe consequences like improper diagnosis, patient risks, medication errors, or testing errors.
Then, healthcare providers can quickly scan the code using a smartphone camera to gain immediate access to critical patient information, including:
- Name, DOB, gender, phone, address, SSN, photo, etc.
- Health history
- Medical records
- Vaccination records
- Emergency contacts
- Current medications and dosage
- Admission and discharge information
- Aftercare instructions
- Lab results
As technology advances and the healthcare industry embraces more possibilities, QR codes may also be helpful in disaster situations (e.g., floods, tornados, earthquakes, health crises, etc.).
Imagine if everyone received a unique QR code (e.g., necklace, bracelet, watch, ring, or even a component in your smartphone’s health app). Medical support staff at evacuation centers could quickly authorize and access patient medical records, allowing them to provide appropriate medical services faster.
3. Patient Health & Medical Information
Use QR codes to share critical medical facts about common medical diagnoses, treatments, or procedures and place them near your registration desk or waiting room. Patients can scan the QR code using their smartphones and instantly read helpful resources while waiting.
Placing QR codes on a poster or pregnancy chart in the examination room can also provide pregnant women with immediate access to information such as prenatal care guidelines.
4. Hospital Administration
In addition to helping with patient identity management, QR codes can streamline hospital administration processes, reduce medical errors, and increase productivity by allowing doctors to focus on patient care and treatment.
A recent study by Annals of Family Medicine found that doctors spend more than half of their time on Emergency Medical Records (EMR) regulations, which means less time available for patients.
Leveraging QR code technology allows hospitals and healthcare providers to improve efficiencies, lower costs, and reduce their administrative burden by providing instant access to information.
Doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers are already used to mobile devices and don’t need extra time or training to use QR codes. Implementing this technology into a secure hospital workflow can simplify patient management processes and enhance patient outcomes.
5. Medical Clinics
Just like hospitals, medical clinics and private practice doctors can also benefit from using QR codes.
- Patient information
Place QR codes on prescription medications, medical records, lab results, and anywhere patients may need additional information.
- Patient education
Place QR codes on posters or leaflets to help patients access educational information on various diseases and treatments while waiting for their appointment.
- Provider information
Place QR codes on business cards, appointment reminders, emails, or paid ads to share provider information (e.g., appointment availability, specialties, etc.). These codes can also lead patients directly to an online appointment scheduling web page, saving your front office staff valuable time and resources.
- Patient information
6. Remote Patient Monitoring
Use QR codes with patients enrolled in remote patient monitoring (RPM). They can automatically notify their healthcare provider when they take their medicine or conduct aftercare treatment with a simple scan.
Combining RPM with QR codes can help patients receive uninterrupted care, even during a health crisis with stay-at-home orders.
7. Drug Safety
Use QR codes to support drug safety and proper administration of medication to patients. This technology allows providers to scan prescriptions into their patient’s medical records instantly. This saves time, reduces errors, and makes administering medications quick and easy, improving patient outcomes and care delivery.
QR codes can also help caregivers in medication administration. They can use QR codes to display important information on medicines (e.g., expiration dates, composition, drug interactions, dosage, allergy information, and more).
8. Medical Equipment Information
Use QR codes to help providers and medical staff operate equipment quickly, easily, and autonomously. Hospitals, clinics, and sometimes caregivers need to use different pieces of medical equipment and devices throughout the day. QR codes can be affixed to medical equipment and include operating instructions, manuals, troubleshooting, commonly asked questions, maintenance, or even videos about the equipment.
QR codes prove they’re an indispensable part of effective healthcare delivery, patient identity management, drug administration, and even healthcare marketing.
If you’re a healthcare provider, I encourage you to consider using temporary, dynamic QR codes with encryption to streamline workflows, improve patient communications, enhance the patient experience, and save time and money.