Medical info via QR code

A personal experience in which a medical emergency was made worse by a lack of medical information inspired Tag Bio founder Anch Ong (left) to create the ID-Life wristband. Chief executive officer Chew Min Seng felt a similar need when his elderly mother suffered a fall and had no medical information on her.
PHOTO: Medical info via QR code

SINGAPORE - Mr B K Lim, 52, is an avid cyclist who regularly takes part in triathlons and travels overseas to cycle.

Every time he goes out on his bike, the businessman not only wears his helmet, but also an identification tag. The tag has his name and the person to contact in the event of an accident or emergency.

Recently, he upgraded his ID tag, which is a simple tag with the information engraved onto a metal plate, to a quick response (QR) code-based medical identification wristband called ID-Life.

"I cycle regularly. Given the risks associated with cycling on the road, an accident can happen any time," he said.

He figures ID-Life may help save lives as doctors can use it to download the injured person's medical information quickly.

In the unfortunate event of an accident and where he is unable to communicate, the first emergency responders to the scene can use smartphones with a scanning app to scan the QR code embedded in his ID-Life wristband to get his name, blood type and drug allergies, as well as access a call button to contact his next-of-kin.

At the hospital, doctors can scan the QR code and obtain other information, such as pre-existing medical conditions and medications that he may be taking.

It is possibly the first such identification wristband on the market that can contain this depth of information, said its Singapore founders, who have submitted a patent application for the technology.

The depth of information that can be stored and the various components, including the database server used to store the user's personal information, are some of the unique features which are included in the patent submission.

Its security feature is also unique. A log is kept on how often a person's information is being accessed to ensure no one abuses the system.

QR-code wristbands, such as ID-Life, allow for instant updates, whereas conventional wristbands would have to be thrown away as the details are usually engraved and cannot be amended.

"It is a more technologically advanced version of another wristband called Road ID, where your basic information is typed onto a tag," said Mr Lim.

Who it benefits

Who it benefits

The identification wristband is not only useful for athletes but also for groups of people who have difficulties communicating, such as the deaf, elderly people with dementia and those who have mental illnesses.

Ms Wong Ai Ling, 50, senior manager for Deaf Access Services at the Singapore Association for the Deaf, said a wristband containing personal information can be useful for getting in touch with relatives in case of emergencies.

"If a deaf person has a medical emergency when he is alone, his medical history can be obtained by scanning, which bystanders and doctors can use to treat him," she said.

Also, six in 10 of the 5,000 registered deaf people at the association have only primary school education, and may face difficulties in understanding and explaining to others about their medical conditions, she added.

In general, ID wristbands, whether conventional or interactive, are a useful tool for deaf people to communicate vital information to doctors and nurses who do not understand sign language, said Ms Rosa Yan, a case manager for Community Services at the Singapore Association for the Deaf. They are also handy for helping people who may get lost, such as elderly people with dementia, return home.

Dr Michael Chong Soon Thye, a family physician at the 24-Hour emergency department at Raffles Medical, said this device could also be useful for those who are terminally ill, who may not want people to take any heroic measures to save their lives when they collapse.

He added that paramedics and doctors attending to the person must know about the device and how it works. Otherwise, they may think it is just another accessory.

The device would not be able to communicate important information, such as the circumstances that led to someone collapsing, pointed out Dr Chew Huck Chin, a consultant respiratory physician and intensivist and emergency medicine physician at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

But it could come in useful in communicating vital information to doctors when someone is brought into the emergency room, he noted.

This is especially useful as 10 to 20 per cent of such patients are too ill to communicate, said Dr Chew, who is also a visiting consultant at the department of respiratory and critical care medicine at Singapore General Hospital.

A communication tool

A communication tool

The idea of the wristband had been simmering in the mind of Tag Bio's founder and chief operating officer Anch Ong, 42, after she had a traumatic experience in Thailand during a business trip in 2007. Tag Bio owns and produces ID-Life.

Ms Ong was on the outskirts of Bangkok and was suffering severe pain from gastroenteritis. But when she finally got to a medical facility, the doctors were hesitant to treat her as they could not get necessary information from her, given her incoherent state of mind.

"The doctors did not want to take the risk of misdiagnosing me as they could not communicate with me well."

That set her thinking about others in similar situations. "When you are unconscious or in severe pain, you cannot communicate with doctors properly, even if you are in your own country," she said.

Mr Chew Min Seng, 53, the chief executive of Tag Bio, also felt a similar sense of helplessness in 2008 when his late mother, then 82 years old, suffered a fall by the roadside and had no medical information on her.

He received a call from a kind passer-by, as his handphone number was all his elderly mother could remember.

At the hospital, doctors had to do tests to determine if she was diabetic and to check what medication she was on, as she also had high blood pressure and he did not have the information on hand. "If all this information can be kept in a simple gadget, it would make life so much easier," he said.

His mother, who was found to have broken her right hip from the fall, had to wait about six hours before she was treated.

"I think it was a combination of not having crucial medical information at hand, as well as a packed emergency room, which led to the long wait," said Mr Chew.

"Hopefully. this device can help people to get their medical information in order and store it so that in times of need, it can help to speed things up," he added.

Reaching out to those in need

Reaching out to those in need

With so many groups that could benefit, the makers of ID-Life are targeting more than just sports users.

It is now being used by various cycling groups, the Singapore Association for the Deaf, and elderly and needy residents in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC as part of an ongoing outreach to at-risk residents there.

Ms Ong added that the company is also in talks with businesses in the education, manufacturing, automobile and insurance sectors, and government agencies, regarding using ID-Life for their emergency preparedness programmes.

Tag Bio has adopted the social needs social enterprise model under the Social Enterprise Association (SEA), said Mr Alfie Othman, executive director of SEA. This is a relatively new sector here with between 200 and 300 social enterprises, of which 170 are registered with SEA.

The social needs model is made up of products and service offerings that addresses an unmet need in the market, he said.

In this case, Tag Bio, through its products and services, is providing and managing vital information identification and global positioning system locator technology.

Tag Bio has, as part of its social enterprise outreach, given the Singapore Association for the Deaf 250 accessories and about 200 deaf people are using them.

Currently, phase two of the device's roll-out is taking place with a network of doctors, who can access a person's full medical data through a newly developed app that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Such access is only allowed for doctors who are accredited with the Singapore Medical Council and who are attending to the person's medical emergency.

Ms Ong and Mr Chew are also reaching out to a regional network of hospitals so that ID-Life users can receive critical medical support when they travel within South-east Asia.

Two hospitals in Vietnam will launch ID-Life - one this month and the other in September.

"We are also working with partners in Indonesia and Thailand to come on board," said Ms Ong.

The device costs $30 and can last as long as you take care of it.

The user can key in up to 10 different illnesses and 10 drug allergies, plus add other fields.

Other devices available in the market include engraved tags, which usually consist of a metal plate that allows for about six lines of engraved information, with about 20 characters per line.

There are also USB-based devices which store personal medical information through a digital memory chip, as well as other QR-code wristbands out there. But Mr Chew said ID-Life is the only QR-code medical emergency wristband with a patent-pending database and retrieval system developed in Singapore.

So far, it has given users like Mr Lim a greater peace of mind.

"I'm very careful when I'm out cycling on the road. But, at least, I know that my personal and medical information will be on hand even if I am knocked unconscious," he said.

How it works

How it works

The ID-Life wristbands and accessories come with unique quick response (QR) codes which are linked directly to a user's profile account.

When scanned, the QR codes provide two tiers of information.

The first tier of essential information reveals one's name, blood type, drug allergies and a short cut button to call the next-of-kin.

The second tier of information is accessible by medical professionals and reveals personal and health details, languages spoken, disabilities if any, identity card number, nationality, current health condition and current medication.

It can also include the name of the person's primary doctor and his contact details.

Any open-source QR reader can be used to scan the code on the accessory to retrieve basic or first tier information.

Only the ID-Life scanning app issued to accredited paramedics and doctors will be able to extract the personal and full medical information.

It costs $30 and subscription is free for the first year. Subsequently, it costs $15 a year to upkeep the data in the account.

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