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The integration of barcode scanning technology into Canadian public health immunization settings


Background — As part of a series of feasibility studies following the development of Canadian vaccine barcode standards, we compared barcode scanning with manual methods for entering vaccine data into electronic client immunization records in public health settings.

Methods — Two software vendors incorporated barcode scanning functionality into their systems so that Algoma Public Health (APH) in Ontario and four First Nations (FN) communities in Alberta could participate in our study. We compared the recording of client immunization data (vaccine name, lot number, expiry date) using barcode scanning of vaccine vials vs. pre-existing methods of entering vaccine information into the systems. We employed time and motion methodology to evaluate time required for data recording, record audits to assess data quality, and qualitative analysis of immunization staff interviews to gauge user perceptions.

Results — The authors conducted both studies between July and November 2012, with 628 (282 barcoded) vials processed for the APH study, and 749 (408 barcoded) vials for the study in FN communities. Barcode scanning led to significantly fewer immunization record errors than using drop-down menus (APH study: 0% vs. 1.7%; p=0.04) or typing in vaccine data (FN study: 0% vs. 5.6%; p<0.001). There was no significant difference in time to enter vaccine data between scanning and using drop-down menus (27.6s vs. 26.3s; p=0.39), but scanning was significantly faster than typing data into the record (30.3s vs. 41.3s; p<0.001). Seventeen immunization nurses were interviewed; all noted improved record accuracy with scanning, but the majority felt that a more sensitive scanner was needed to reduce the occasional failures to read the 2D barcodes on some vaccines.

Conclusion — Entering vaccine data into immunization records through barcode scanning led to improved data quality, and was generally well received. Further work is needed to improve barcode readability, particularly for unit-dose vials.



Pereira JA, Quach S, Hamid JS, Quan SD, Diniz AJ, Van Exan R, Malawski J, Finkelstein M, Samanani S, Kwong JC; Public Health Agency of Canada/Canadian Institutes of Health Research Influenza Research Network (PCIRN) Program Delivery and Evaluation Group. Vaccine. 2014; 32(23):2748-55. Epub 2013 Nov 17.

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