Wired or wireless: what’s the best bet for patient care?
Is a wired barcode scanner just what the doctor ordered? Or is it time to cut the cord?
It’s an important question when shopping. After all, barcodes and barcode scanners (also called barcode readers) are essential. Barcode use has reduced medication errors by up to 85%, causing the FDA to mandate them for healthcare. As a barcode reader manufacturer with a substantial healthcare user base, our data capture experts have been asked everything. So we consulted these pros for this barcode scanner shopping guide.
Bedside manner: Is mobility key to care?
This should be obvious: wireless is the way. But the answer is more nuanced. Hospitals are deploying advanced medical carts that double as mobile workstations with laptops and barcode scanners for patient data capture. Scanning a patient’s wristband, for instance, provides caregivers with vitals such as medication dosage times. But these clever carts have more in store. For example, some feature lockable doors that will only unlock by first scanning an on-unit barcode and then the corresponding patient’s wristband. Wireless barcodes readers are ideal for room-to-room care—particularly purpose-built devices like Code’s CR2700 Barcode Reader that offer cart-mountable inductive charging cradles. But wireless devices typically cost more. Additionally, treatment in certain wards, e.g., critical care, is extensive enough that devices stay put, making wired barcode scanners cost-effective. Wireless devices, though, maintain an edge because they support more workflows and ease working around beds and IV stands.
Facility design: Walk a mile in their shoes
Most older hospitals have thick walls that make it too complex (and costly) to retrofit modern IT networks. This fact helped propel the rise of wireless barcode scanners. Moreover, medical carts are decentralizing equipment and changing workflows, enabling nurses to park their carts in wards and walk to individual patients with a barcode scanner in hand. Repeated over a 12-hour shift, many nurses walk miles upon miles daily, giving wireless an edge.
While mobile workflows favor wireless, there are important places where wired rules. Pharmacy, patient check-in, inventory, cafeterias, and gift shops are ideal for wired devices because most uses are static. The right pick boils down to how flexible workflows should be.
Durability: Drops matter less, bacteria matter more
It’s a virtual tie between wired and wireless devices—both designs handily withstand multiple 6-foot drops [1.8 M] on concrete.
It’s obvious that wireless devices are vulnerable to damage. Most medical carts are 4’ high; if a barcode scanner has a 3-foot cable, it won’t hit the deck. However, repeated stress on the device’s cable could degrade internal connections, just like repeated drops stress a wireless device. Bottom line: Both wired and wireless devices will reliably make the rounds.
But what’s the link between bacteria and durability? In healthcare, everything—doesn’t matter if a device is wired or wireless. Hospitals have stringent infection control protocols to prevent the transmission of germs and viruses. The problem: common cleaners corrode antibacterial plastics, "yellowing" them. Beyond an unsanitary appearance, inevitable cracks invite cleaners to seep in, shortening service life.
When shopping, ask about plastic. Code, for instance, offers devices in award-winning CodeShield® plastics that sidestep this issue. Disinfectant-ready CodeShield consists of densely packed polymers that cleaners can’t penetrate. Antibacterial plastics (i.e., biocidal polymers), on the other hand, aren’t without merit but ask: Was the plastic impregnated with antimicrobial agents? Or was it merely doused in an antimicrobial coating? Many coatings weaken or wear off. You might find that lower-cost devices offer less long-term value because they are too vulnerable to cleaner-caused damage.
Speed & Security: It’s a tie!
Scanning speed between wired and wireless devices is less than a millisecond. Similarly, there is no discernible difference between wired and wireless devices for info security because these are not internet-connected devices; patient data only exists within a hospital’s EHR solution.
Cost: This is obvious (mostly)
If you’re reading this, you’re acutely aware of budget, the buying committee, and how far you can take your persuasive efforts. You also understand that wireless devices will cost more, but greater versatility offsets this price delta. And while both wired and wireless devices will eventually require service (or repair), it’s important to remember budgeting in replacement batteries for wireless devices.
Yes. Wireless devices cost more. And there is greater potential for loss or theft. But the costs can be recuperated thanks to greater flexibility and, if they’re CodeShield-equipped barcode readers, greater durability.
One more tip…
When shopping barcode scanners for healthcare facilities, factor capability into spend. For instance, more hospitals are favoring surgical tools with direct part marking (DPM) barcodes for tracking. Tools carrying etched or peened barcodes aren’t affected when going through autoclaves, whereas labels wash off after a few cycles.
The catch, though, is that most standard barcode readers can’t effectively scan DPMs, necessitating costly devices that are three times the size of a standard scanner. This difference makes them less comfortable to use over long periods of time.
However, advanced scan engines can process DPMs. A dental hospital in Turkey, for instance, has invested heavily in DPM to support tool sterilization and traceability and streamline surgical preparation. They selected Code’s user-friendly CR6000 Barcode Reader, a staple in manufacturing, because it reads DPM barcodes on surgical-grade stainless steel.
Hospitals can no longer treat barcode scanners as commodities because patient data is too valuable. If you, or your buying committee, aren’t sure between wired or wireless barcode scanners, contact Code. Our global network of professionals can help you pick the right barcode reader for your healthcare workflows.