The first major evolutionary step for the barcode as an information proxy was to encode info in more than just one “linear” direction and by and large these types of barcodes usually look like a little square of dots and dashes, rather than uniform-height hashmarks running left to right. They transform the encoding density of the barcode and are called 2D barcodes (so-named as the data is encoded vertically as well as horizontally). There are a lot of them in the public domain and they are used in fascinating ways in other countries.
This family of barcodes also scan differently than linear barcodes. It can be scanned by anything that can basically take a picture of it and you don’t have to worry about orientation or any of the other headaches that arise when you use a linear barcode.
That’s because 2D barcodes are actually graphic images of encoded information. You can literally take a picture of 2D and decode it. Even your cell phone can do this and does do this throughout places like Japan where it is customary to have advertisements (and more) with 2D QR barcodes that you scan and then you get all of the product info on what you scanned, all thanks to GS1 initiatives.
Around our part of the world, the closest you get is the latest Pet Shop Boys album using QR codes to automatically link you to a website they want you to view.
Innovative? Well, yeah, I guess. But . . .
Wouldn’t it be truly innovative if caregivers at the bedside had barcodes with all of the contextual, relevant medical and H&P background of the patient they’re standing in front of, all without the mechanical headaches of scanning linear barcodes?
Now, don’t get me wrong, some 2D tests have started getting traction in healthcare: used for asset tracking by the HCA, 2D has been used for automating the production of patient labels accompanying laboratory requests and the FDA is all for 2D barcodes among other developments. This is all wonderful news and long-overdue and I look to seeing the higher density 2Ds at the patient bedside.
I also think 2D is just the starting point. There’s a part 3 in this series for a reason.
There’s something else coming on the horizon that I guarantee will change your view of “the barcode” forever.
More to come in Part 3.