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Surg Neurol Int 2011,  2:104

QR codes in neurosurgery

Department of Neurosurgery, Maastricht University Medical Center, Maastricht, The Netherlands

Date of Submission19-Jun-2011
Date of Acceptance20-Jun-2011
Date of Web Publication30-Jul-2011

Correspondence Address:
Pieter L Kubben
Department of Neurosurgery, Maastricht University Medical Center, Maastricht
The Netherlands
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DOI: 10.4103/2152-7806.83386

PMID: 21886877

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How to cite this article:
Kubben PL. QR codes in neurosurgery. Surg Neurol Int 2011;2:104

How to cite this URL:
Kubben PL. QR codes in neurosurgery. Surg Neurol Int [serial online] 2011 [cited 2015 May 3];2:104. Available from:

Everyone of you will be familiar with the linear bar codes that are used in shops, or maybe for patient identification in your hospital. Dedicated bar code scanners are used to link the bar code to a specific type of information, like a product price in a shop or a patient identity in a hospital.

Using modern information technology, the use of bar codes can be much more than just these examples. Smartphones with integrated cameras can be used to recognize bar codes and link them to products or new information sources (website, multimedia, and address). This development leads to a need for more advanced bar codes that would offer:

  1. easy and fast recognition, and
  2. a wider range of individual bar codes to reliably identify all information sources.

   What is It? Top

A new sort of "bar codes" was originally developed for the automobile industry, but is now used in a much broader context. [4] The so-called QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes that meet the requirements set above. The abbreviation "QR" stands for "Quick Response" or "Quick Read". In contrast to the original bar codes that literally consisted of vertical bars, QR codes are constructed in a mosaic pattern [Figure 1]. This creates the two-dimensional pattern that allows for many more possible combinations while maintaining recognition speed.
Figure 1: A QR code example which leads to the homepage of Surgical Neurology International

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   How Does it Work? Top

To recognize a QR code, you need a camera. Although it can be done using a webcam, the most convenient use for QR codes is with mobile devices that have an integrated webcam. There are many (also free) apps available that can use the device camera to capture a QR code and "translate" it into the corresponding destination, which can be shown immediately. [Table 1] offers an overview of such apps for several operating systems. Using a QR code in combination with such a QR code reader is an easy method to unlock the power of this technology.
Table 1: An overview of some suggested (free) QR readers for mobile devices

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   What is it Good for? Top

Although the classic bar codes could be replaced by QR codes, there is no need to do so. Within a shop or within a hospital, they offer enough combinations to mark all products or patients individually. However when the purpose is to uniquely identify a website, a document, multimedia files or address on Google Maps, then QR codes are very useful. Weblogs have already hypothesized about possible areas of use for healthcare. [2],[3]

Suppose you talked to a patient about a surgical procedure that will be performed, and you hand over a brochure with additional information. Of course this brochure could contain web addresses with video demonstrations or explanation. However, the same brochure could also include a QR code that directly links to this website. Then, there is no need to retype that web address (with the possibility of typing errors) or to write it down somewhere. The patient just opens the QR reader, points the camera to the QR code, and can directly access the information on the (mobile) device. No typing, no difficult web addresses, and no spelling mistakes. The QR codes can be created using several online services, some of them also work for free. For privacy and security reasons, QR codes can also be encoded. [1]

The same can be said for postoperative physical exercises. A physiotherapist may offer support the first few days after surgery, and give advice on how to continue some exercises after discharge. Also here a QR code can be used as an easy way to access multimedia sources on the web that contain video demonstrations of the exercises, or some additional suggestions for a good recovery.

You can also use it in your presentations or on the handouts. Even your business card can contain a QR code to assist your colleagues in finding your practice or you personally on

   How Do We Use It? Top

Surgical Neurology International started placing a QR code on the PDF version of all its articles. If you see the QR code on a printed version of the article, you can directly visit the corresponding web (HTML) version by using your QR code reader. Due to the open-access nature of the journal, this gives you direct, full access to the whole article, including links to download the article as a PDF (or even EPUB) yourself.

If you have additional suggestions on how to implement QR codes in neurosurgical practice or Surgical Neurology International, please let me know.

   References Top

1.Fontelo P, Liu F, Ducut EG. QR code for medical information uses. AMIA Annu Symp Proc 2008:945.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Rocks K. Five Ways to use QR Codes in your Medical Practice. Available from: [Last accessed on 2011 Jun 19].  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Whaley MP. 22 Ways You Will Use QR (Quick Response) Codes in Healthcare in the Future (if You′re Smart!), 2010. Available from: [Last accessed on 2011 Jun 19].  Back to cited text no. 3 QR Code, 2011. Available from: [Last accessed on 2011 Jun 19].  Back to cited text no. 4


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1]

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