QR Codes: Thinking inside the little black box

QR Codes are so hot right now in the marketing community, but it certainly feels like many marketers who implement QR Codes in their campaigns skipped the chapter on how they really work.

A QR Code (or Quick Response Code) is a type of matrix barcode that consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be made up of any kind of data. They are displayed so people can scan it with their smartphone.

A QR Code is a shortcut to quick information. They direct people to a website or application. It’s starting to take the place of writing down a web address or texting a number—you just scan a QR Code to get there instead. Kelly Hellickson, national sales manager at Image.works in Madison says QR Codes are incredible marketing tools that are being used more and more by health care organizations everywhere. “These barcodes can be scanned by a mobile device—leading consumers directly to online sites that contain relevant information such as sign-up forms, videos, virtual tours, etc.”

I developed a QR Code for my blog when they were introduced to the marketing world a few years ago and never did anything with it. I wish I had. However, I agree with Kelly. I do know marketers are using them and I also know that they are using them effectively. The adoption of QR Codes is slowly increasing. So, it would be wise  to say it would be in our best interest (as health care marketers) to know how and why to use them.

Here are a few examples of how hospitals and health systems are thinking ‘inside’ the little black box.

Increase patient engagement

TriStar Health System now incorporates a QR Code in its Fast ER Wait Times campaign to link consumers to information about the average emergency room wait times. This puts real-time information in people’s fingertips when time matters most.

This is a postcard Image. Works created for Community Healthcare System. The QR Code led to a personal website that contained physician biographies and allowed individuals the opportunity to request additional information on any of the featured physicians simply by clicking on the appropriate checkboxes.

Poudre Valley Health System wanted to increase the amount of patients who shared their experiences with the community. To do this, it placed QR Codes in birthing unit rooms and waiting rooms, so patients can scan the codes and be taken to its mobile-friendly Facebook page to share stories.

Jeanne Barnett, president at Medrise and writer at Eye on Pharma, says that pharmaceutical companies “should aim to have specific QR Codes leading directly to the product’s website for each product. The codes should be imprinted on prescription bottles, boxes, delivery devices and more, leading directly to the product’s website.”

Barnett says this would allow patients to learn more about correct dosage and other safety information, regarding the medicine. QR codes on products would give patients direct access to pertinent educational information about use, dosage, safety, and cleaning instructions.

Patient education and customer service

Athens Regional Health Services is now making appointment scheduling much easier. The hospital launched a QR Code that links to a site where woman can instantly and easily book a mammogram appointment.

“It came down to wanting to be able to track where people were reading about our services and pulling up our services on the website,” Courtney Alford-Pomeroy, website marketing manager for Athens Regional Medical Center told the Athens Banner-Herald. ”I want to make sure that we’re targeting people in the places that are most convenient for them.”

Introducing staff and physicians

At SSM Healthcare implemented a new initiative called, “Experience Exceptional: Our People.” The new site featured a series of two-minute clips to introduce staff to the community it serves. To increase the views of these clips, SSM Healthcare developed QR Codes that link to each clip, which get placed in its magazine, OptimiSSM.

Crisis communications

Harris County Hospital District uses QR Codes in their emergency protocol. QR Codes now lead to an emergency and disaster staffing hotline and to the emergency communications website. Talk about fast communications—think about how fast they can now disseminate information and inform the public if a crisis happens.

As I sit here and research, I can’t help but wonder how my hospital, Mercy Health System, can use them in the future. One thought I have is to implement medical information via QR Codes such as linking to events that load into a mobile calendar. The opportunities are seriously endless.

With that said, let’s brainstorm a bit. What types of information are you trying to communicate or market right now? How can it be encoded in YOUR QR Code? Please share below and join the conversation.

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