Imagers Versus Lasers in Hospitals
|Image scanners, like this one from Intermec Technologies Corp., can be a cost-effective alternative to lasers.|
Some concerns about FDA's bar coding rule proposal could be alleviated if hospitals used imagers instead of lasers for bedside scanning, an industry expert says.
FDA has proposed a rule mandating linear bar codes on all prescription drugs and any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs commonly used in hospitals. The proposal does not specify two-dimensional (2-D) codes such as Datamatrix because FDA is concerned about whether hospitals will pay for the equipment to scan them. The agency also expressed concern that many products that scan linear codes cannot scan 2-D codes.
But if hospitals utilized imagers instead of laser scanners, they could scan 2-D and linear codes with the same technology, says Robert Rack, president of RDG-Rack Design Group and BarCodeAmerica.com (Madison, NJ). Rack spoke at Unit-Dose Bar Code 2003, a conference held in June in Princeton, NJ, and sponsored by The Packaging Group Inc. (Milltown, NJ).
"Imagers aren't expensive. There is not a big cost differential between imagers and lasers," Rack said. "The cost will come down to around $200 in a few years."
He said it will be important for FDA to include nonlinear codes such as Datamatrix and 2-D versions of Reduced Space Symbology (RSS) in the final rule, because they are needed for the smallest unit-dose packages.
"In many cases where either mandated text makes larger codes impossible, or where physical size makes the smallest codes desirable, RSS variants and Datamatrix are the only options," he said. "As a rule, Datamatrix codes will take up one-third of the space of the next-most-space-efficient codes. More importantly, Datamatrix can be printed in either square or rectangular formats to take advantage of available space without substantial text relocation. The use of 2-D variants of RSS or the use of Datamatrix must be considered, when both the total cost of ownership and the ability to code data on small packages and labels is being contemplated."
Imagers may be less expensive than laser scanners when costs over the entire life of the product are factored in, Rack said. "Laser-based code readers have moving parts. Therefore, sooner or later, they wear out and the reader or portable data terminal is discarded," he said. "Imager-based readers and portable data terminals have no moving parts and no parts to wear out. Because the useful life of imager-based products is greater, [they are] likely to be less expensive over time than laser-based systems." Imagers would also make for a more cost-efficient scanning process, as orientation is not a factor and nurses would not have to spend time ensuring the scanner was pointed in exactly the right direction.
He noted that the pharmaceutical industry is calling for 2-D codes to be allowed in the final rule because many firms are already using Datamatrix. "We believe that the outcry for the use of Datamatrix will result in its inclusion for hospital use," he said.