Tag Archives: calorie counters

QR Codes, Augmented Reality, and Learning for Health

QR code for this blog

In a previous post, I described some instructional applications of QR codes. In this post, I’ll discuss the use of QR codes in patient education and performance support (e.g., supporting health-directed behaviors).

Mobile health (mhealth) meets mobile learning (mlearning)

QR codes have enormous potential to allow learners to pull information related to their own health care interests. The information can be presented as micro-educational modules, or perhaps more aptly, as performance support tools.

For example, QR codes can be used to help patients use health information in specific contexts, such as when needing to:

  • take a pill
  • interact with a device (for example, a glucose meter, a smart band-aid, etc)
  • engage in a behavior (e.g., finding a hospital, exercising, buying food, selecting a meal, etc).

The mhealth applications of QR codes intersect with their mlearning applications.

Some examples include:

  • QR codes on food/drink packages to link to nutrition information, interactive calorie counters, and personal information about a patient’s diet plan (which would require the learner/patient to interact with a Web site linked to the QR code)
  • QR codes attached to medication labels, linking the codes to patient-friendly information, as well as physician and pharmacy contact information
  • QR codes to identify drug interactions (useful for patients and physicians) via an interactive or static Web interface
  • QR codes on devices patients use, to link to how-to information (e.g., text, video, or audio information, that could be presented in different languages)
  • QR codes to link medications, patient devices, physical locations, etc, to live assistance (e.g., nurses, other health care providers) via phone numbers associated with the code or links to sites with live chat capabilities
  • QR codes on a card the patient carries or on a key-chain attachment that’s linked to the patient’s personal health care record (PHR) and/or emergency contact information
  • QR codes to help patients identify health care providers or emergency medical services in their area
  • QR codes on the equipment on a jogging path or in a gym to encourage appropriate exercises, connect to heart rate monitors, etc.

Augmenting reality with QR codes

As described in a previous post, augmented reality applications allow learners to use smart phones to connect location-based information with online information and to augment their view of their surroundings (e.g., as displayed via their smart phone camera) with computer-generated information. While GPS signals can be used to cue a mobile device to the information that should be layered over a camera display, QR codes could  be used in this way as well.

  • For example, a Google Map could be layered over an image of a person’s surroundings to indicate the location of health care providers or emergency services
  • A map of the departments in a hospital can be layered over an image of a person’s current location in the hospital
  • An image of a person using the specific exercise equipment associated with a QR code could be layered over a camera image of that equipment.

Current mhealth applications for patients

The mhealth potential of QR codes is being recognized by health care providers, and QR codes are increasingly recognized by the public as information that can be scanned and used (though of course this education needs to continue). For example, QR codes are starting to be embraced by the health care industry for marketing/disease awareness purposes, as noted in this article. The Oral Cancer Foundation has used QR codes at an event to link T-shirts, stickers, and even temporary tatoos to educational information about oral cancer.  Likely, this is just the beginning of mhealth and mlearning applications.

Caveats and cautions

The same cautions that apply to mobile learning in general apply to QR codes. If the information and interactions don’t suit  learners’ goals, learners won’t get much out of them or transfer newly acquired knowledge/skills to their health behaviors. Interactive applications are more likely to engage learners and to help learners develop problem-solving skills. Text and visuals need to be appropriate to the context and the learner audience being targeted. In other words, there’s the usual  admonition, don’t skimp on analysis when you’re developing an mhealth mlearning application.

Access also is clearly a limiting factor in the wide-spread use of QR codes. Though the “mobile revolution” may be over on a very superficial level, when you dive deeper it’s clear that there’s a large divide between those who have smart phones and those who do not. As illustrated in this infographic, 83% of Americans may have mobile phones, but only 25% have smart phones.

As the technology advances and prices come down, we hope these numbers change. This doesn’t mean that we abandon the development of mhealth, mlearning applications that reach smartphone users, but it does mean that in the meantime we consider how to reach the other 83%. That’s the subject of the next post.