2D or not 2D is no longer the question!
After the past several years, as consumers we are all too familiar with the 2-Dimensional barcodes as we have been actively scanning PDF417 barcodes on printed airline boarding passes, Aztec codes for digital airline barcodes and QR Code barcodes for check-ins or competitions. In product traceability and supply chain applications, ‘2D’ barcodes have also become more prevalent around the world in healthcare and increasingly too on other products.
Evolution not Revolution
The movement to ‘2D’ barcodes in healthcare has been a slow one, at least in Australia. However, with regulations such as Therapeutic Goods Order 106 (TGO106) outlining a new standard for serialisation and data matrix codes on medicines and the Unique Device Identification (UDI) system for medical devices under development for Australia, we are already seeing a gradual increase on regulated healthcare items. The increased implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Electronic Medication Management (EMM) is also driving further adoption.
They are all QR Codes, aren’t they?
In short, the answer is no. QR codes are just one of the types of 2D barcodes. Though knowing what type of barcode is being implemented probably seems insignificant, with the sector becoming more digital and the complex systems needing to be structured, interoperable, and standardised data, having barcodes with clearly defined and interpreted content is quite important. The trend is therefore away from the use of internally defined or proprietary coding and internal identification to those based on global data standards.
The most common of the barcodes in use across the sector globally has become the GS1 Datamatrix. This code contains globally defined, specific formats to support unique identification of products, places, people and things plus enable additional attributes to be captured in a single scan. One GS1 Datamatrix on a product can identify the product itself plus include additional elements like batch, expiry and serialisation that can easily support traceability and inventory management. A GS1 Datamatrix can contain defined attributes to enable identification of a patient, and their episode of care and differentiate between it being located on a wristband or a clinical note or other patient-related artefact — incredibly helpful for a semi-digital hospital environment. When used to help capture unique locations they support everything from supply chain visibility to patient flow to asset tracking. Other applications for assets, documents, shipments and so on all add further layers of accuracy and visibility within an increasingly complex digital world.
Can your scanners and systems create or interpret these standardised barcodes?
Many of the technology solutions and hardware providers can already interpret these barcodes. A large number have been increasingly supported by global or even local solution providers as they have been preparing for and seeing value in the evolution. It is important though to check whether any new technology that is being implemented can cater to the data standards and barcodes as part of any new investment. 2D barcode readiness and the ability to use GS1 global data standards should be included within all new projects to ensure that unnecessary reinvestment will not be necessary.
What does the future hold?
The continual drive for access to more product data — where some are dynamic and other information quite detailed — means that while some data need to be contained on a pack and in the barcode, other data needs to be accessible ‘off-pack’. Using new standards such as ‘digital link’ means that in future not only could we see the multiple barcodes on products reduced to only one, single 2D barcode to help manage the product, but this same barcode could also enable access to trusted sources of information from a product manufacturer or regulator. Pilot implementations of this have already proven successful, but in the interim, we will see ‘Apps’ helping to bridge the gap in accessing data from regulatory databases or other repositories.
Could the future also support the ability to identify products such as medicines down to individual doses straight from manufacturers — instead of necessitating the cost and complexity of repackaging to have unit doses for Electronic Medication Management to patient bedside? Perhaps. We also need to tackle the challenges of how we will enable track & trace and other elements of technical improvements in the supply chain — but since that is also built on the same standards all steps forward are in the right direction.
Will your system be lagging?
This simple test card can be used to help check whether your systems can scan a standardised GS1 Datamatrix on a product.
What should you be asking your solution providers?
If you are in the process of sourcing new solutions, there are some questions you can ask to help ensure your systems will meet future requirements. Access questions.
For further support please contact the GS1 Australia Healthcare team.