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Navigating Barcode Scanner Deployment in a Healthcare Setting

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Barcode scanners and printers have become essential items in many practices. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) recommends use of barcodes to reduce medication error rates, and improve workflow and efficiency. The technology has many advantages for implementing an electronic health record (EHR) in both large and small healthcare settings, and helps in HIPAA compliance because sensitive information is encoded and stored safely behind a firewall. This article will detail some things technical staff should consider when incorporating barcode technology into medical records management.

Does a barcode scanner need to be SDK-supported?

Medical-grade scanners consist of a scanner and a base which communicate together via Bluetooth®.  The base is connected to a computer via USB or a keyboard wedge, which translates barcode information into readable data. It is called a keyboard wedge because it literally acts as a keyboard in that it enters data into a computer, and it does so using either a Serial Port Profile (SPP) or Human Interface Device (HID) type of Bluetooth connection. For medical purposes, however, using a Software Development Kit (SDK) in place of the default keyboard wedge may be desirable, as it offers advanced control features that a healthcare setting often demands.

Most large-scale healthcare situations with dedicated IT staff will implement the SDK for mobile imaging, as it does require familiarity with C++ or other programming languages. A properly coded SDK is helpful because it enables barcode information to be scanned and instantly saved to a healthcare provider’s internal network, and opens up interoperability with a variety of mobile devices to access patient data. This can be very advantageous on a large hospital campus.

Manufacturers may offer their own SDK with their medical-grade scanner. For example, Honeywell Xenon 1902 comes equipped with the TotalFreedom 2.0 SDK, which enables loading and linking multiple applications to the scanner, deployable on a plug-and-play basis. Similar features are also found on the Motorola DS6878, which comes with the Motorola SDK and has compatibility features that support other SDKs commonly used in the medical field.

Larger healthcare settings will likely opt for SDK support, but smaller practices might want to check out less expensive models, like Datalogic Gryphon GBT4400 and Motorola DS4208, which do not have SDK support, but still have configurable features delivered via SPP, HID or keyboard bridge. These models still offer healthcare professionals workable tracking features. This might suffice in small-office situations, especially when an IT professional might not be present to code an SDK, and robust compatibility and mobility features may not be as necessary.

Purchasing the appropriate licensing for barcode scanners

A medical practice incorporating barcode scanners is likely to be running a computer setup involving Windows Server 2012, andMicrosoft Dynamics NAV with it, an enterprise resource planning software product that aids in saving and analyzing patient information. Other hardware and software are available, but this setup is probably the most common. When a barcode scanner and its software are deployed on a server, the appropriate Client Access License (CALs) must be purchased.

There are two types of CALs. A User CAL covers device authentication on a per-user basis. A device CAL does this on a per device basis. Selecting the most cost-effective CAL depends on whether there will be more users, or more barcode scanners in your healthcare setting. Say you have 10 practitioners sharing five devices in a small medical practice; buying five device CALs would make the most sense here. But say in a hospital situation where each room has its own scanner, the scanners would likely outnumber the personnel using them, so setting up user CALs would make more sense here.

Deployment of a barcode system is increasingly important as practitioners move towards keeping an EHR system in place.  When choosing a barcode scanner, it is important to first understand the compatibility requirement of the system that’s already in place, and choose the barcode scanner that best fits the scale and goals of your medical practice.

Photo by Suzanne Chapman, taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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