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Medicine Technology

Using QR Codes To Save Lives 171

Posted by samzenpus
from the scan-me dept.
itwbennett writes "Paramedics in Marin County, California, may soon be putting QR codes to lifesaving use. According to an IDG News Service report, 'Lifesquare, a Silicon Valley start-up, has partnered with two emergency response agencies in Marin County to run a year-long pilot program. Lifesquare wants residents to input personal information about their medications into its website, then place corresponding QR code stickers where emergency responders can scan them with an iPhone.' The first hurdle: Getting people to put the sensitive information online. 'The way that we look at is that people already put their information into their driver's license, that's owned by the government, people put their information into credit card company's and that's owned by private corporations,' said Ryan Chamberlain, director of public outreach at Lifesquare."
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Using QR Codes To Save Lives

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    instead of printing a QR code there?

    • by Dark$ide (732508) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:16AM (#40177321) Journal

      instead of printing a QR code there?

      You get better info density with QR. A QR can hold up to 4K.

      • by kwark (512736) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:36AM (#40177409)

        4k should be enough to contain most information a paramedic might need (alergies, medication), esp. if that info is app generated (shortcodes, compression). There is absolutly no need to upload al this to an external party to have it downloaded again in an emergency, in effect adding a couple points of failure.

        Just put the info in to QR.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Then everybody with a QR-code reader can get your info. Online database access can at least in theory be restricted to authorized people. Anyway, this whole idea is misguided. Machine readable information that isn't also human readable invariably falls out of sync with reality. Machine codes should only ever be used for things that never change or are scanned so frequently that wrong information can't last. The kind of information they want to put in these codes could just be printed in clear text. This is

          • by ewanm89 (1052822) on Friday June 01, 2012 @04:30AM (#40177865) Homepage
            Don't know about in the US, but in the UK we have allergy bracelets that lists all allergies that person has for such emergency purposes. Adding a QR code to digitize this information wouldn't be too terrible.
            • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Friday June 01, 2012 @05:16AM (#40178025)

              In North America, we have the MedicAlert system... bracelet or necklace that you can wear, it has a recognizable logo and on the other side a file number is engraved. Medical professionals need to call in and give the file number in order to get the information.

              I prefer it, because it's actually engraved, so less likely to disappear. Correct me if I'm wrong, but engraving a QR code into metal would be a pain in the butt, and even if you could do it accurately enough, a cell phone camera wouldn't be good enough to read it....

              • by isopropanol (1936936) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:19AM (#40179681) Journal

                I have a friend who works in construction and can't wear jewelry, so he has a 6" tatoo of his medic alert info (potentially deadly medicine allergy). I don't know about the US, but here in Canada every medic alert bracet I have ever seen has said on it what it's for, so first aiders can know what to do/not do.

                Also, per comments about people not helping out of fear of being sued... In Canada every province has "Good Samaritan Laws" which protect you from being sued for helping someone in a lifethreatening situation, except Quebec where it is illegal to NOT help if you can do so without endangering yourself or someone else (and also you can't get sued). Also we're lucky here in that our courts are sane.

              • by bosef1 (208943)

                I'm not sure about QR codes in particular, but the Wikipedia page for the Data Matrix 2D barcode shows the code being engraved: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Matrix [wikipedia.org]
                I'm not sure what kind of reader you would need, but you might be able to get dark ink hard-anodized into the depressions to create a cameral-readable barcode.

            • by arth1 (260657)

              Emergency personel here in the US of A quite deliberately avoid looking for S.O.S. bracelets and similar. The reason being liability.
              If they don't know about something, they can't be sued over it, but once they have established that there is information, they are liable for making the correct call based on that new information.

              Everything about the US health system is based around CYA and money.
              In other countries, you can be put in jail for not assisting someone in need to the best of your ability. Here, u

              • by ATMAvatar (648864)

                Everything about the world is based around CYA and money.

                FTFY

              • Emergency personel here in the US of A quite deliberately avoid looking for S.O.S. bracelets and similar. The reason being liability.

                Citation please.

          • by Eraesr (1629799)

            Then everybody with a QR-code reader can get your info. Online database access can at least in theory be restricted to authorized people.

            Couldn't the information the QR-code holds be encrypted with a private key?

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            With the information held online and the QR just a link to the DB, the DB is as up to date as the last update by the patient. The patient link is static and can never change, so a QR is appropriate.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by stderr_dk (902007)

              The patient link is static and can never change, so a QR is appropriate.

              Yes, cause there's no such thing as areas without coverage, network errors, database failures, ...
              And in case of large scale emergencies, the cellular network would never fail. NEVER!

              I'll take plain text, thank you very much!

              • Yes, cause there's no such thing as areas without coverage, network errors, database failures, ...

                Even if you don't need to connect, the equipment and software can still crap out. Such a bad idea.

                • The earth could explode, so there are no good ideas.
                  Seriously though, this idea is a good starting point, there is room for improvement however.

          • by iamhassi (659463)

            The kind of information they want to put in these codes could just be printed in clear text. This is just one company trying to get into a middle-man position where no middle-man is needed.

            Exactly. Or link it to a drivers license or state ID, there's no reason to have an extra sticker that emergency medical personal are trying to search for. I can just see them running around searching for a sticker.
            EMT #1: Check his wallet
            EMT #2: Not there
            EMT #1: Where's the helmet?
            EMT #2: I don't see it on there either
            EMT #1: Well screw it, we can't spend all night searching for a sticker!

            WE already have state IDs, why not just use those? Even children can get a state ID. [dmv.org] Put your ID number

        • by nzac (1822298)

          Yes but this would be and (open) standard and no one would make any money from it.
          You would just go to an official website and get some pdf to print.

          It could also have problems with poor generating and reading software implementations.

        • Not really, What would probably be a better use, is storing your MRNs (Medial Record Numbers) for all your healthcare provider systems, and perhaps the URL to access their MRN. Scanning the QR code will will then download a CCD (Community Care Document (XML based schema)) straight from the providers. That way they will have the full Medical Record of the patient for viewing.

          The key issue is security, to make sure any guy with a smartphone can't get in. You can probably make money providing secure key auth

      • In this case the QR code points to information on a website, which can in turn hold an indefinite amount of information.

    • Or put in the sticker a password to decrypt the information that would be stored encripted in a database with a password protected too.

      The paramedic could have his own QR code (in his "paramedic identification card", or whatever). Then:
      1 - Paramedic connects to database.
      2 - Paramedic takes a picture of your card to access.
      3 - Paramedic takes a picture of the patients QR code to decrypt and download the data.
      4 - Patient's password is automatically changed.
      5 - System re-encrypts the patient's data with the ne

      • Look at the complexity of your solution, then the complexity of the GP's (assuming it's QR encoded, not printed text). A simple standard direct encoding of the information, potentially pubkey signed for verification, makes way more sense than dealing with all that other fluff.

        • by mwvdlee (775178)

          simple != better security against unwanted access.

          You're both discussing different things.

          A single static public key is a leak waiting to happen but it's convenient, simple to implement and doesn't rely on an internet connection and third party resources.
          A "one-time use" system is a lot more difficult to implement and maintain but also protects against unwanted access to your medical data.

          • by White Flame (1074973) on Friday June 01, 2012 @03:29AM (#40177643)

            simple != better security against unwanted access.

            Yeah, and the information printed right on the sticker provides both at once. I'm pretty baffled as to how a self-contained physical item in your wallet is somehow supposed to be less secure than collecting lots of data points on a net-connected server...

            • Someone steals your wallet, now they have all of that information. If the information is encrypted in the database and the key is the QR code then the person who steals your wallet also needs access to the database. If access to the database is controlled, then you need to be a paramedic who steals wallets to compromise the system.
      • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday June 01, 2012 @05:16AM (#40178031) Homepage Journal

        1 - Paramedic tries to connect to database.
        2 - Paramedic tries again
        3 - paramedic walks to other end of room and tries again.
        4 - Paramedic holds it right.
        5 - Paramedic takes a picture of your card to access.
        6 - Paramedic's phone locks up
        7 - Paramedic reboots phone
        8 - Paramedic tries to reconnect to database.
        9 - Paramedic tries again
        10 - Paramedic walks to other end of room and tries again.
        11 - Paramedic remembers to hold it right.
        12 - Fuck it, he's dead.

        - FTFY.

    • by Bill Dimm (463823)

      That is basically what has been done for decades. You fill out a form with your medical info, slip it into a little plastic vile, and attach it to the underside of a rack in your refrigerator with a rubber band (so it should survive a fire) where the paramedics can easily find it. It's called the "vile of life."

      • by Bill Dimm (463823)

        I forgot to mention that you normally put a sticker on the outside of the refrigerator so the paramedics know the vile of life is inside. So, you don't write your info on the sticker itself, where there would be limited space and the possibility of fire damage, but it's a similar idea -- the info is stored on location instead of on a website that you can't access without a smart phone and a cell phone signal.

      • What about when you have a medical emergency outside your home?

        • by Bill Dimm (463823)

          I don't remember that being addressed (I only happen to know about the vile of life because I distributed them for my Eagle project when I was in Boy Scouts decades ago), but you could presumably carry the info in your wallet/purse (which you might not keep on your body when you are in your home, and thus might be burned in a fire).

          • by ewanm89 (1052822)
            In the UK we have medical bracelets, sometimes the information is also important to first aiders (say a severe allergy to cotton bandages?), so locking it all down too much is not a good idea.
      • slip it into a little plastic vile

        Yuk, that sounds vial.

    • With a QR code you don't need to change the sticker every time your medical information changes.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Your emergency medical information does not change much really, we're not talking about your journal. Epilepsy, diabetes, allergies, heart condition, hemophilia and conditions like that are what an emergency paramedic needs to know, the rest not so much.

  • I'm guessing at least a few christians will rant about this being "the mark of the beast" and a few tinfoil-hat types ranting about how this is the governments way of finding out things about you which they already knew...

    • I'm betting at least one slashdotter will start posting pre-emptive strawman arguments too.

      • by mikael_j (106439)

        Thing is, every time some new measure to identify and track anything related to people comes up there are a handful of xtian crazies who scream about it being "the mark of the beast" (I'm not saying ALL of them, I'm saying a handful) and how this is a sign of the end times and all that.

        And in a similar vein a few of the wackier anti-government people always come out of the woodworks as well, in their case to rant about how the evil gubmint is just doing this so they can implement some crazy scheme involving

    • Actually I remember an old rapture movie (in the 80's) that used UPC bar codes as a main plot device to track people and execute christians. Bar code scanners were new back then and I'm sure it's just a matter of time before the movies are updated with QR codes.

      What is not so crazy is our willingness to make it easier to track ourselves.

  • It was only a matter of time until Hollywood swapped barcodes on the necks of prisoners in sci-fi movies for QR codes... I'll totally get one.

  • by Zemran (3101) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:14AM (#40177307) Homepage Journal

    People do not put their private information online by choice. Not even through the driving license or credit card. It would be better to microfiche the data and put that on the sticker. There have to be some safeguards. Most people do not trust the internet with any more than gossip and they are not likely to change in that opinion.

    • Most people do not trust the internet with any more than gossip and they are not likely to change in that opinion.

      I think you may be a bit out of touch with Regular Joe. Facebook is all about compiling your information and sharing it with others. There are nearly a billion people using it, and one of their biggest problems today is that there are not enough people in the world for them to sustain their growth. That's not the story you'd expect to hear if people actually cared about their privacy, much as it pains me to say it.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:20AM (#40177345)
    The big problem is that no matter how useful such services may be, there have not been enough (or strong enough) guarantees of privacy. Microsoft had this same idea, or close enough. They didn't have QR codes but otherwise the idea was the same. And it was a MAJOR failure. Nobody signed up.
    >
    Unless there are very solid and enforceable privacy guarantees, people will keep NOT signing up.
    • They didn't give up. Microsoft is still trying with HealthVault [healthvault.com]. It's a Personal Health Record [wikipedia.org] platform so they're hoping others build these types of solutions on top their offering. PHR usage has been growing, with some of the largest companies in the country ( Walmart, ATT, etc. ) using Dossia [dossia.org].

  • by nzac (1822298) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:34AM (#40177401)

    Write your medical condition on bracelet. I guess you can fit more info on a website but still.
    Do they not have them everywhere?
    http://www.medicalert.org/shop/shopHome.htm [medicalert.org]

    • by Zadaz (950521) on Friday June 01, 2012 @03:26AM (#40177635)

      Of course it has. This is just a company going for a cash grab. I'm surprised they aren't using a proprietary 2D barcode format, but that would mean hiring 3x as many developers.

      This thing is such a bad idea it shouldn't even have to be enumerated.
      1) EMT doesn't have the app.
      2) Person is in a reception dead zone. (Soon to literally be a dead zone.)
      3) Disaster scenario: What happens to mobile phone reception?
      4) Paramedics have time to surfe the web while trying to save lives?
      5) LifeSquare's web site is down. Whoops, guess I'll die of a reaction to penicillin then.

      Sure, there are privacy issues, but that seems to be the least of the faults with the system. Just write the dam thing in English on the bracelet and all you need to do is be able to read English. Low-tech solution is the right one.

      • by nzac (1822298)

        Yep, someone figured out a better solution back in 1956 [wikipedia.org] and had the decency not to try to extort money from it.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        I present a counterexample, illustrating necessity: my father. Among other problems he has diabetes, a congenital heart condition (aggravated by a later trauma), a deformed left hip, stunted growth in his right leg, skin cancer, an allergy to iodine-based surgical preparations (because of an "inert" additive), a severe allergy to all seafood (the root cause of the iodine issue), and high blood pressure. He's also an organ donor, and has requested DNR.

        That's all useful for paramedics to know, and it's a heck

        • I thought medical personal would call MedicAlert with your father's bracelet ID to get all that information.

          What if your bracelet falls off, or gets dirty, or is tarnished, or if it's upside down and the paramedics can't move your arm to read it? You could die of a reaction to penicillin because the bracelet didn't work!

          Are you suggesting that people would have the QR tattooed on a standard location on their body? Otherwise this system is prone to the same failure.

          • by Sarten-X (1102295)

            MedicAlert does have all of my father's information. MedicAlert also has the reception and time problems (since it involves a phone call) that the GGP is using as a fearmongering argument against a QR code system, but that's not what he wanted:

            Just write the dam thing in English on the bracelet and all you need to do is be able to read English

            This system is prone to many failures, some of which are similar to ones the bracelets have. Again, the main point is that redundancy offers reliability.

            • MedicAlert does have all of my father's information. MedicAlert also has the reception and time problems (since it involves a phone call) that the GGP is using as a fearmongering argument against a QR code system

              Is the information available fast enough? The fact that it requires a phone call doesn't seem that too restrictive or time consuming. It seems that the emergency responder is free to continue to stabilize the patient while listening to the medical information being read to him by MedicAlert. Do you

              • by Sarten-X (1102295)

                Let's get one thing out of the way real quick:

                It does seem that you are doing a little fear mongering of your own to promote a QR code based system over the current system.

                Absolutely not. That's just sarcasm. I'm in favor of both systems, and RFID chips, and carrying card in wallets, and if somebody could work out a system where a skywriter writes medical information about people in the street, there's a good chance I'm in favor of that, too. Paramedics need warnings of "this will make things worse" as soon as possible, and I'm in favor of supplying that information through whatever mechanism is convenient, fastest, and most accur

    • by khipu (2511498)

      MedicAlert comes with an ID number and phone number that medical staff can call for more information.

      (I would expect that they will start offering NFC and implantable chips once it makes sense, but that's only a small improvement over what they already offer.)

  • Way to make something needlessly difficult. If you've got some complicated medical issues, write them on a piece of paper and laminate it. Keep the paper in your pocket. Keep another copy in your wallet. If you're really paranoid, keep a third copy in a waterproof pouch on a necklace under your shirt. That will work anywhere.

    • by game kid (805301)

      Great idea! Now we just need to patent "notes on piece of paper". (See, "notes on a website" wouold be much easier to pass off to those USPTO peons!)

    • Or just get a medic alert bracelet like the smart people with deadly afflictions.
    • by RichiH (749257)

      Not if you are in an area where locals don't speak English. And, for example, neither spoken nor written Latin gets you anywhere in a Chinese pharmacy.

      Still, keeping it low tech is the right thing to do.

  • Who cares? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kuzb (724081) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:41AM (#40177437)

    It's just a QR code, which is little more than an advanced barcode. I don't see why we feel the need to write stories every time one gets used. It's like reading about paint drying.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      Because it's fun to watch all the people on soapboxes arguing back and forth without reading the article and barely reading the summary? 25 comments in and it's already a hoot!

    • by sohmc (595388)

      I'm not sure if you're serious or trolling. In case you're serious:

      Saying QR code is "a little more than an advanced barcode" is like saying a computer is like an advanced calculator. While technically true, the fact that QR codes can hold MUCH more data makes the comparison moot. While the barcode and QR code are related, they have different applications.

  • Apple again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sensationull (889870) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:58AM (#40177537)

    What is this 'with an iPhone' junk again. How about with a smartphone/portable computer etc. Why must everything be Apple, is it just so the sheep understand stuff to or what. Just give them some crayons and let them sit in the corner if it is to complicated for them to parse the word smartphone to include their own little Jobsian idol.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SirAdelaide (1432553)
      I came here to post that exact same comment. "Can I scan it with my Android QR scan app?"
  • this is stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s.t.a.l.k.e.r._loner (2591761) on Friday June 01, 2012 @03:03AM (#40177555)
    I work in the healthcare field, and I can assure you that at least 95% of people don't even bother to keep an updated written list of their medications in their purse or wallet. The tiny minority of people who would even CARE to input their information and keep a QR code sticker handy are the same people who know their medications/doses, so do not even need this service. The only way this could possibly work is if each person used only one pharmacy ever, AND if the pharmacy was allowed to provide this information to anybody with the software to scan the QR code (a very dicey proposition, given that HIPAA outlaws access to "protected health information"), AND if everyone was willing to carry something with this QR code on them at all times. I can tell you right now, I wouldn't carry anything extra, so unless the QR code is added to my drivers license I won't have one with me.
    • The only way a system vaguely like this one will ever work is if one day the health care system creates a national patient health information database. The issues involved in such a project are of course enormous, but if it could ever get off the ground, it would solve this and so many other problems with patient data. To give some examples...

      1. 1. My dad gets bloodwork done at a lab that needs to be faxed to a specialist clinic, and they've used the wrong fax number three times now. He has to talk to people a
    • You don't have to "only use one pharmacy" ever. You'd have to use a PHR [wikipedia.org] like Open Source IndivoHealth [indivohealth.org] or HealthVault [healthvault.com] or Dossia [dossia.org].

      Personally, I believe it's a great idea that hopefully will one day catch on.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      I used to work in the healthcare field, and I can assure you that this is half-right. Saying 95% of people are terrible with their recordkeeping is being optimistic about humanity. I personally carry an emergency contact card in my wallet, where the first four of eight numbers don't work anymore. I'll update it someday (or maybe just put a sticker over them...)

      That said, it is possible for this to work. HIPAA doesn't outlaw access to "protected health information" but only outlaws unauthorized access. That

  • You want people to give you confidential information to perform an encoding they could just as easily do on their own? The confidentiality of your proprietary software does not trump the confidentiality of medical data.

  • Why an iPhone and not any smartphone or any other similar device?
    What can an iPhone do any other smart phone cannot?
    I think this is just marketing fluff.
    You want to attract interest in a project? Just add an iPhone/iPad/iWhatever!
    Then possibly put the data in the cloud and a spray some 3D multimedia and ubiquitous stuff all over!
    Ah!

  • by fph il quozientatore (971015) on Friday June 01, 2012 @04:08AM (#40177799) Homepage
    What if every US citizen had a 9-digit identifier, which could be used to look up their medical information online?
    • I have a feeling this wouldn't work in America. The basis for government isn't trust, but fear. As someone who's lived in Finland all his life, I have to tell you the reason any of our "socialism" (!!!) and national resident registry with IDs for everybody works, is because people in office aren't fucking around, at least that much, at least yet. There is a strict culture of disdain for screwing up here in Finland, so if you're the chief of police of some town and are caught drunk driving, you're busted, do
      • What he is referring to is the fact that all Americans already have a nine digit social security number attached to them which is tied to us typically within a month of being born and sticks around till we die.

      • by sco08y (615665)

        I have a feeling this wouldn't work in America. The basis for government isn't trust, but fear. As someone who's lived in Finland all his life

        So you base your evaluation of the basis of American governance on your life experience of not living in America?

        I have to tell you the reason any of our "socialism"

        At least you acknowledge that socialism is a terrible idea that has a been the single most catastrophic failure in human history.

        This is probably the reason why we come #1 in corruption rankings as the least corrupt country.

        Or because you lie on the rankings...

        • At least you acknowledge that socialism is a terrible idea that has a been the single most catastrophic failure in human history.

          Way to misunderstand his statements. Try reading+comprehension next time instead of jumping to conclusions because a certain trigger word causes you to froth at the mouth in impotent rage.

          Socialism works. Strict "concrete" communism (USSR-style) didn't, mostly due to it actually being a dictatorship under the guise of communism. Get your terms right instead of using "socialism" to mean "anything I don't agree with".

          I live in socialist Scandinavia and you know what? It's paradise. I get paid to educate myself and I have no fear when quitting my job or starting a new business, because I know that even if I fail, my society's safety nets will kick in, help me get back on my feet and give me another chance. Try living without fear some time, it's fantastic.

        • by Gonoff (88518)

          I have to tell you the reason any of our "socialism"

          At least you acknowledge that socialism is a terrible idea that has a been the single most catastrophic failure in human history.

          No. What he is acknowledging is that uninformed people think that he lives in a socialist country. A more accurate description if somewhere with universal healthcare is civilised

    • by sco08y (615665)

      What if every US citizen had a 9-digit identifier, which could be used to look up their medical information online?

      Doesn't work if you're temporarily offline. And it doesn't tell you what it is you're looking up, one key into twenty different databases is useless.

      We already have any number of systems with any number of identifiers, they need to be able to talk to each other, and I don't see why the government needs to impose a blanket standard. Let the various systems compete on their technical merits, and simply work out some rules to ensure that each service publishes an access API. How you define the health of the hu

  • How about, and that's and absolutely dumb idea...we just give people little cards in business-card size and they write down their medications there? You put it in your pocket or in your wallet and bam, you don't need in iPhone.
  • Lifesquare wants residents to input personal information about their medications into its website,

    And how, exactly, does Lifesquare make money? TFA does not say. Until that's clear, "privacy concerns" is an understatement.

  • This type of thing is typical from people who don't really know what EMS is, and thus think up all sorts of things that are - unwittingly - counterproductive.

    I'm an EMT for my town's volunteer agency. I don't know if the story says "paramedics" to mean paramedics, or EMS in general, but there's a difference. Paramedics, or ALS (advanced life support), can do things like intubate and place IVs for anyone serious. EMTs, or B(asic)LS, handle everything, working with paramedics on anything serious. Not really r

  • isnt this the same thing as those Med-Alert bracelets? I believe ambulances have quick access to that data already.

  • If only there was some kind of necklace or bracelet with a corresponding wallet card one could purchase that would alert a first responder that you have a medical condition and/or are taking medication that they need to be aware of.

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