The simultaneous development of Pfizer and Moderna’s safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year stands as one of the great feats of recent medical science. Now that the vaccines are available, however, the healthcare industry and government authorities must take on the new challenge of distributing doses to the population quickly and effectively. In some respects, this logistical feat will be every bit as daunting as developing the vaccines themselves.
Fortunately, the use of barcoding in healthcare supply chains and patient records will prove incredibly helpful in overcoming some of the key difficulties in vaccine distribution. Medical barcodes are already being used in many essential applications. For organizations that have yet to fully embrace the potential of digital transformation, barcode processing integrations can help them quickly expand their capabilities to meet the growing demands of vaccine delivery.
4 Ways Medical Barcodes Solve Vaccine Delivery Challenges
1. Better Supply Chain Accuracy Means Less Waste
Given the high costs of manufacturing and distributing the vaccines, there is justifiable concern over the potential for waste. Both versions of the vaccine need to be kept at low temperatures for shipping after manufacture (approximately -90 degrees Fahrenheit for Pfizer and about -10 degrees for Moderna). Once they’re moved to a refrigerator for administration, they cannot be refrozen. While the Moderna vaccine can last for up to 30 days refrigerated (provided the vial is not punctured), the Pfizer vaccine must be discarded after a mere six hours. Further complicating matters, each Pfizer thermal shipping container can potentially hold up to 975 multidose vials (4875 individual doses), whereas each box of Moderna vaccine contains 10 vials (100 doses).
Without accurate inventory and shipment tracking, healthcare providers could easily end up with too much supply in one location and not enough elsewhere. In a worst case scenario, unused doses might even go to waste because they can’t be redirected to another site quickly enough. By incorporating medical barcode scanning throughout the supply chain, healthcare organizations can ensure more efficient distribution during the shipping process. They can also verify that delivery sites have the appropriate storage capacity ahead of time to avoid the possibility of doses going to waste due to lack of freezer space.
2. Improved Dosage Records
One of the key challenges with distributing the currently approved vaccines is that they require multiple doses. Although the doses are identical from a chemical composition and dosage standpoint, the problem is that they must be administered after a specified interval. According to the FDA, that interval is approximately 21 days for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days for the Moderna vaccine. As healthcare providers work to deliver the vaccine effectively, they must keep accurate records to show who has received the first dose and how much supply of each vaccine shipment should be designated for second doses.
The ability to read and print barcodes providers quickly track where patients are in the vaccination process and ensure that second doses will be available at the appropriate time. This is especially important considering that the vaccines are not interchangeable. Once someone has received the first Pfizer dose, for instance, they should not receive the Moderna vaccine for their second dose (except in exceptional circumstances). By generating a specific barcode after the initial dose and including it with a patient’s health records, providers can quickly and easily match people with the correct vaccine and make sure they have available doses on hand.
3. Keeps Essential Medical Equipment On-Hand
Vaccine distribution involves more than just shipping the doses themselves. Many different accessories are required to administer the vaccine, including protective equipment, vials, rubber stoppers, syringes and needles, and alcohol swabs. Healthcare supply chains were already under significant strain throughout the pandemic, so it should not be taken for granted that providers will have everything they need when the vaccine arrives. Furthermore, as the overall pace of vaccinations increases, it will be important to keep an accurate count of available equipment, especially if a provider does a lot of off-site vaccinations.
Barcoding in healthcare is critical to establishing connections between different elements of the supply chain. By using medical barcode integrations, providers can track and coordinate every piece of equipment needed for vaccine delivery in near-real time. Incorporating the same barcodes into patient records also gives a more up-to-date inventory count as doses are administered, ensuring that hospitals and healthcare facilities don’t run out of essential equipment when they need it most.
4. Expands Distribution Beyond Traditional Supply Chain
Distributing the vaccine in major population centers is difficult enough, but extending delivery into underserved rural areas presents a different set of challenges. These areas often lack the supply chain infrastructure to accommodate the rapid and widespread transfer of medical products. Healthcare providers will need technology tools that allow them to set up remote distribution and treatment centers capable of coordinating with local communities in order to extend their reach into these areas.
While barcoding in healthcare may provide the visibility organizations need into vaccine logistics and patient records, certain regions will also require mobile medical barcode integrations that can put more power and control into the hands of field workers. Rugged, reliable barcode integrations capable of reading broken or damaged barcodes using any mobile device will be essential for overcoming the limitations of rural digital infrastructure.
Unlock the Potential of Barcoding in Healthcare with Barcode Xpress
Accusoft’s Barcode Xpress SDK integration helps healthcare applications read, write, and detect more than thirty different barcode types, even if those images are damaged, broken, or incomplete. With the ability to read multiple barcodes at speeds of up to 1,000 pages per minute, Barcode Xpress can help medical providers take control of their supply chains and manage patient records more efficiently. That same functionality can be extended even further thanks to Barcode Xpress Mobile, which can turn any iOS or Android device into a powerful barcode scanner.
Distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses is one of the great logistical undertakings of the 21st century. By expanding the usage of barcoding in healthcare, providers can create greater transparency into their supply chains to reduce waste and deliver the vaccine more efficiently to the patients who need it most. Find out how Accusoft’s Barcode Xpress can help the medical industry upgrade its infrastructure to meet the challenge of restoring a sense of normalcy to people’s lives and overcoming the pandemic. Try a hands-on demo of our barcode SDK today.
Barcode Xpress 13.1 recently released for Linux, Java, and .NET Core, and with it came an exciting new component in the Linux version: official Python support. It has always been possible to use the ctypes module in Python or other modules built upon it to utilize native C libraries, but Barcode Xpress Linux now ships with an official Python sample script as well as a small library you can use to take the pain out of analyzing barcodes from your Python scripts.
You can browse the included samples, located in the ReadBarcodesPython directory, for examples, but in this article we’ll go into some additional depth explaining how everything works and how to get started reading barcodes.
Including Barcode Xpress In Your Python Project
When adding Barcode Xpress to a Python script, there are two primary files you’ll need to locate and be aware of: BarcodeXpress.py, the wrapper library, and libbarcodexpress.so, the native library.
BarcodeXpress.py is a small wrapper library that utilizes the ctypes module to find, load, and call the Barcode Xpress for Linux native library. The simplest way to use it is to simply copy it into the directory containing your script or application and then include it normally.
When imported, BarcodeXpress.py will attempt to search for libbarcodexpress.so or either of the versioned names of the library associated with it’s release. It will first look in the same directory containing BarcodeXpress.py. If it does not find it there, it will attempt to locate the library in the recommended default location: ~/Accusoft/BarcodeXpress13-64/bin. It will always attempt to use the version of the library it was released with as it’s first choice, falling back to any version of the same major release and finally to any version at all. We recommend that you not rely on those fallbacks, though, and always use it with the version it was released with for maximum compatibility.
If you’ve installed Barcode Xpress in the recommended location then you should have no problem using the native library from there. For any other location make sure to copy one of the libbarcodexpress.so files to the folder your script is running from.
Barcode Xpress Licensing From Python
Barcode Xpress requires you to have either a paid or evaluation license before analyzing any barcodes. The simplest way to get started out of the box for a new user is to use the License Manager included with your Barcode Xpress installation to install an evaluation license on your computer. If you haven’t requested an evaluation license yet, you can do so at the main Barcode Xpress site: https://www.accusoft.com/products/barcode-xpress-collection/barcode-xpress/
For other licensing scenarios BarcodeXpress.py provides a set of functions mirroring the ones found in the native library which accept normal Python strings and integers:
While the native Barcode Xpress library requires filling out fields in a struct to define any non-default parameters you would like to pass to the engine, the Python wrapper allows you to pass in values in a standard Python dictionary which it will then translate into a struct for you. Additionally, several classes containing static members are present in BarcodeXpress.py which correspond to the enums present in the main library.
There are currently two ways of passing your images into Barcode Xpress from Python: passing the path to a bmp file as a string, or passing an image loaded from disk by OpenCV:
# With an image path results = BarcodeXpress.AnalyzeFile(“my-image.bmp”, options) # With an OpenCV image myImage = cv2.imread(“my-image.png”, cv2.IMREAD_GRAYSCALE) results = BarcodeXpress.AnalyzeOpenCV(myImage, options)
Interpreting Barcode Results
Either Analyze function will return a Python list containing Barcode objects, the class for which is defined in BarcodeXpress.py. This class has members for all of the fields in a normal Barcode Xpress Result struct except they have been converted into Python friendly equivalents. For the complete list of returned properties and their types, see the complete reference documentation.
And that should be everything you need to know to detect barcodes in Python with Barcode Xpress! BarcodeXpress.py is completely open so feel free to look around inside that file to see how we’re using ctypes to give you access to the full API of Barcode Xpress for Linux. Feel free to contact us with any questions or for evaluation licensing, and good luck decoding barcodes!
Complexity is increasing for post-secondary institutions. From burgeoning class sizes to evolving technology requirements and privacy concerns, schools need a way to streamline operations without sacrificing accuracy or security. According to Campus Technology today, “for higher education to meet these challenges, nothing less than transformative change will do.” Barcodes can help with the unique challenges in education.
Barcodes offer a way to stay ahead of the complexity curve. By encoding data on student ID cards, library resources, and IT devices, it’s possible for schools to both streamline operations and underpin digital transformation initiatives simultaneously. But what does this look like in practice? Where are schools best-served by barcodes? Which types offer the biggest benefit? And what potential issues emerge when deploying barcode solutions at scale?
Barcodes in Education: Making the Grade
The brilliance of barcodes is their ability to encode complex data in small spaces. For schools with an abundance of administrative, student, and resource information, targeted application of barcode technology can streamline both access and security. While there’s no single way to effectively apply barcodes in post-secondary settings, common use cases include:
Student ID Cards — By encoding student data such as name, ID number, and account balances onto barcoded ID cards, schools can easily track student attendance, restrict or permit access, and even load digital funds onto student IDs to pay for on-campus services such as food, document printing, or textbooks.
Resource Tracking — As noted by EdTech Magazine, university spending on IT now tops $2.1 trillion worldwide. While network and cloud infrastructure accounts for the bulk of technology budgets, schools are also spending on devices for students to use in-situ. Barcodes allow IT admins to easily record resource borrowing, track student use, and ensure devices are returned.
Database Integration — Post-secondary schools recognize the value of data analysis, but often struggle to collect and compile critical datasets. Barcodes allow organizations to connect digital silos with physical information sources to help build campus strategy.
Cracking the Code
Barcodes have come a long way from the ubiquitous UPC. At the University of Guelph, for example, researchers are leveraging DNA barcodes to catalog all life on Earth, while The Tribune points to a school in Gurugram that has affixed all trees on campus with QR codes to help students quickly learn more about local flora.
The key to barcode benefits in both cases? Matching format to function. While more advanced codes offer the potential for greater data storage, they’re not always best-fit for the task at hand.
For most applications, schools are best-served by one dimensional (1D) barcodes. The familiar set of black lines and white spaces deliver one axis of information across their width, and are ideal to meet the space constraints of student ID cards. Handheld scanners or mobile devices can read these codes, and the simple structure of 1D codes makes them easier to rollout and repair as needed.
Two dimensional (2D) barcodes — such as datamatricies and QR codes — use both width and height to encode more information. For example, the standardized GS1 QR code can encode 4,296 characters while the GS1-128 can encode just 48. 2D codes are ideal to deliver more complex data such as e-mail addresses or webpage URLs.
Solving for X
Despite the ubiquity and use of educational barcodes, potential problems remain. Some of the most common challenges for post-secondary schools include:
Physical Damage — If codes are damaged, scanners may be unable to read key data.
Printing Errors — Misaligned or poorly-printed codes can frustrate school efforts to capture information.
Data Integration — Without the right software behind the scenes, critical barcode data may not make it into school databases.
Barcodes can help post-secondary education institutions stay ahead of the complexity curve by streamlining data capture, storage, and analysis. To deliver on critical code advantages, however, schools must match format to function and ensure leverage cutting-edge solutions capable of reading less-than-perfect codes.
When you’re looking to integrate a toolkit into your application, your first priority is assessing the capabilities. Once you’ve found the right fit, you need to make sure that the pricing matches your budget and makes sense for your needs.
Historically, Accusoft has offered a variety of different licensing options for our clients. Products were always licensed by core or number of installs, depending on which runtime fits best.
These practices have been great for our clients so far, but we realized a missing piece that could help bridge the gap for new clients with smaller projects that dynamically scale based on workload.
Introducing a New Way to License
Barcode Xpress is the first product on the Accusoft line to offer metered licensing based on transaction. Metered licensing helps a variety of different clients scale up or down, when they need to. While our traditional licensing plan is great for projects with defined scope, smaller projects that have potential to grow need more flexible pricing options.
“The main reason we wanted to introduce metered licensing is to address SDKs used in scalable environments,” says Mark Hansen, Product Manager of SDKs. “Clients can use metered licensing to spin up their projects based on the traffic they’re getting, without the need to obtain additional licenses. While many companies opt for an ongoing usage, this new model allows for estimating a specific amount of use, so they only pay for what they need.”
The Benefit of Metered Licensing
Why would a company choose to specify the usage from the start? Metered licensing is great for short-term projects with a limited lifespan, as clients only pay for what they use. It’s also great for clients who don’t know the scale of their project and need to be cautious with how much they spend.
Metered licensing is based on a pay-per-transaction model. A transaction is defined by the page. For example, if Barcode Xpress reads 30 pages with five barcodes on each page, the transaction total is 30 instead of 150.
This transaction-based model makes for a very low cost of entry, and a no-stress agreement. With this value in mind, clients don’t have to worry about how much they will use the integration after a specific project is complete. In addition, if the project grows, metered licensing allows the client to scale up.
Reliability of Metered Licensing
Accusoft understands that our customers are building mission-critical apps with our SDKs and has carefully architected the system to be extremely reliable. Our server-side authorization and reporting system runs in Amazon AWS and is split into online and offline parts.
The online portion is built on AWS CloudFront and S3, two of the most reliable systems available on the Internet. All of Accusoft’s backend code is in the offline portion of the system and an outage in that portion of the system will have no effect whatsoever on our customers, even if it were down for several days. Nevertheless, we have 24/7 alerting in place so we will be notified soon after an outage occurs and will quickly get it back up.
While the rapid uptake of electronic health records (EHRs), wearable devices, and collaborative technologies can help streamline treatment planning and delivery, the scope and scale of these same technologies creates a continually evolving, increasingly complex workspace.
According to recent Accenture data, more than half of U.S. healthcare patients now struggle to navigate the system, while the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that expanding EHR use contributes to physician “burnout.” And while completely eliminating complexity isn’t possible due to the value of new technologies outweighing potential drawbacks, providers can improve operations. That starts with barcodes in healthcare.
Tracking Patient Treatment
To ensure patients receive the care they need while in hospital, identification is key. By incorporating patient data into barcode wristbands printed at the time of arrival and then scanned using hand-held devices or mobile phones, caregivers get consistent, real-time access to specific patient protocols, in turn allowing doctors and nurses to make informed decisions about ongoing treatment plans.
GS1, the organization responsible for developing and codifying new barcode standards, notes that “barcodes can be used to identify products and patients as part of every caregiving process. This ensures that the right care is being administered to the right patient.” This removes a critical layer of complexity. Instead of referring to physical checklists or finding a free computer to access EHR records, staff can simply scan for current patient status.
Tracing Pharmaceutical Uptake
In addition to tracking care status with patient barcodes, doctors’ offices and hospitals can also use barcodes to keep tabs on high-value, high-impact pharmaceuticals. As noted by Tech Radar, continuing reliance on handwritten documents “can lead to mistakes stemming from illegible handwriting and fading ink.” If medication dosages or types are incorrectly transcribed — or incorrectly interpreted — the results range from limited treatment efficacy to adverse patient reactions, requiring substantial staff and resource investments to correct.
By using inventory control and distribution systems such as Bar Coded Medication Administration (BCMA), hospitals can ensure the right medication gets to the right patient at the right time without the risk of human error. Scanning patient barcodes can trigger pharmaceutical refills and delivery directly to hospital rooms. Doctors and nurses scan their own ID badge as well as the patient’s and drug’s barcode when administering medication to update the system and prevent over or under-dosing.
Tallying Potential Payments
Barcodes in healthcare can also be used to tackle the challenge of document management. Consider the rapidly-growing healthcare insurance market. From government-regulated plans to private insurance policies and corporate-backed health packages, the sheer number of forms required to determine costs, assess coverage, and collect payment is substantial. Even minor errors by patients or providers can result in significant delays.
Almost half of employees across industries consider current document location and sharing processes “broken.” Barcoding in hospitals offers a solution. Scans help improve accuracy — cutting-edge solutions are accurate 99.9999 percent of the time — while providing a singular, digital collection mechanism for multiple treatment and insurance records attached to the same patient. The use of barcodes also helps eliminate duplicate form completion. By tying barcode scans to advanced document viewing applications, healthcare professionals can quickly see which forms are already on file.
Decoding Care Complexity
Barcodes offer significant advantages for healthcare providers by helping reduce complexity across patient treatments, pharmaceutical tracking, and document management. As noted by recent research, however, challenges remain. Inadequate scanning equipment and poor quality codes often frustrate these forward-thinking efforts. The solution? Provider prioritization. With the right third-party support across devices and software deployments, healthcare organizations can decode complexity and improve patient care.