VIEW: How QR codes are having a ‘renaissance’ and improving accessibility to health information

Medicines Australia received a letter from a woman who was discharged from hospital with a number of medicines and was confused about what they were for and how to take them. In sharing her story, her request was simple: encourage pharmaceutical companies to create easier access to Consumer Medicines Information (CMI). In this interview, Alida Rossi, Customer Excellence Director for AbbVie Australia and New Zealand, explains how the company is using QR codes to increase accessibility to essential health information.

  • How have QR codes historically been used in the medical field? 

I think the value of QR codes had largely been missed by the health and medical industries in the past. Prior to COVID-19 check-ins, the use of QR codes in medicine was almost unheard of. In the past, other sponsors had utilised QR codes to limited effect. I think part of the reason why the health industry may have previously missed the value of QR codes is because people have a tendency to jump straight from the problem phase to the solution phase. If we don’t take time to understand why a roadblock exists, then we are going to consistently struggle to design services that actually meet the needs of patients.

  • What is the value of QR code technology in medicine today?

In the past, the health system has often struggled to put patients first when it comes to the way systems or services are designed. QR codes have really given health services an opportunity to build new services from the ground up that really focus in on what patients need.

For AbbVie, this technology has also opened up another channel of communication we hadn’t previously explored. It’s a simple method that a large proportion of Australians are now very familiar with and regularly use, meaning we can potentially reach more patients and doctors than ever before. The QR code process also reduces barriers to googling something and the potential for error in typing in the wrong website – now we can rapidly link people to the right information at a time that suits the patient.

  • How are you leveraging QR code technology and other similar technologies today in your work? 

Consumer Medicines Information is an important guide that helps Australians understand how to safely use their medicine. However, patients don’t always receive the document when their medication is dispensed, leaving them to search for this information online, or worse, leaving them without access to crucial health information.

To come up with a solution, we hosted workshops with representation from the TGA, Medicines Australia, industry partners, patient organisations and other experts to identify potential solutions that would help patients safely use our medicines.

We’ve added QR codes to our medicine packages, so that our patients can have fast access to accurate information from the moment they are dispensed by their pharmacist. When someone scans the QR code they can access essential health information, such as CMI, and other educational resources, like how-to videos and enrolment for patient support programs.

We are also now exploring codes on any other items we provide to patients and healthcare professionals to ensure prompt delivery of medical information, links to websites and videos.

  • Why is this technology important? 

This technology is hugely important. According to Australia’s National statement on health literacy, “only about 40 per cent of adults have the level of individual health literacy needed to meet the complex demands of everyday life.” QR codes are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to increasing access to health information and helping us improve our national rates of health literacy.

Access to online materials can also help reduce some barriers for CALD communities and differently-abled Australians. Whether that’s through access to captioned videos, translation services or screen-reading tools, online resources really can offer improved accessibility over complex printed materials.

For us, it also means we can update information quickly and in a cost efficient way any time there are changes to our medicines. That way our patients and healthcare professionals are always getting the most up to date information.

  • How do you anticipate the development and use of this technology to evolve over the next 5 years?

I think QR codes are really having a renaissance – soon they’ll be on everything!  I think one day we might start seeing them on personal items so if you lose them people can scan the QR code and know who to contact. We might also see them appear on all appliances so that you don’t have to search online for the manual, the product code that always hides in the most inaccessible spots or to find what spare parts you need.  I could also see it being linked to things like warranties and receipts so we don’t have to file or store that information elsewhere.  Even on food items, so I can look at more information on the product or have recipes on what you might be able to cook that night. The possibilities are endless!

About the expert

After graduating from the University of Western Australia with a Bachelor of Science (Hons), Alida began her career as Head coordinator at a Research Laboratory. Although rewarding, a career in the commercial application of her science background was where she has been able to truly apply her knowledge and skill. In 2012, Alida was appointed into the role of Head of Organisational Strategy and Innovation and became the key change agent and driver for the development of the Innovation culture at Abbvie. Alida was appointed as the Customer Excellence Director for AbbVie Australia and New Zealand in 2013 and continues to drive the organisation’s innovation culture and venture into Customer Experience.

Image description: Alida is standing in an office space in front of a bright green and large plant, She is smiling, wearing a navy/black dress and wears glasses.


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