At a medical facility, staff can remove patient records (file folders) from a room. The room is locked using a standard tumbler lock (i.e., no swipe cards).

The medical facility does not have much funding available. All staff members have a computer in their office (some computers are several years old). All staff members, who have permission to fetch file folders, have a computer and a known location.


A significant amount of time is spent physically "tracking down" the location of patient records. This is inefficient for the person trying to find the files and disrupts other staff who are queried during the search. Eventually (possibly years hence) the records will be digitized.

This is a classic library book check-out problem.

Solution Architecture

This is what I am thinking:

  1. Web service that tracks file folders by ID.
  2. Print QR Code (or bar code) label stickers with ID.
  3. Label all the physical patient record file folders.
  4. Equip all computers with inexpensive scanner (e.g., web cams).
  5. Install QR Code (or bar code) reader software on each computer.
  6. Write software that passes scanned document to code reader software (e.g., press CTRL-F12).
  7. Write a web service that updates a file folder's location given an IP address.

The part that remains is another web service that allows a person to search for an ID. The search result indicates the last known office where the folder was scanned. The tracking process becomes:

  1. Staff takes file folder and returns to office as usual.
  2. Staff holds folder to scanner, presses hot-key.
  3. System audibly (and/or visually) acknowledges new location.


What inexpensive solution would you put in place to substantially reduce the time taken to track down patient records (and curtail disrupting other staff)?

Ideas for hardware components (e.g., inexpensive bar code readers) are appreciated. Inexpensive bar code readers requiring resident driver software that takes several megabytes of RAM, however, would not be feasible (due to older hardware and budget constraints).

The system likely does not need to be perfect, but it should offer a dramatic reduction on the amount of time it takes to locate a physical file folder, with minimal overhead.

Thank you!

  • If you really want to stick with barcodes, have one scanner (cost about $100) in the file room. Put a sheet of barcodes (Dr House, Nurse Ratched, etc) on the wall (so one doesn't need barcodes on badges) and scan name + any number of files. Don't let the folks refile their own files, toss them into a tray and one (or 2) designated refilers check them back in. File not on the shelf? Look in refile tray, not there? Ask computer in filing room. Might be a few kinks to work out, but that ought to be a start.
    – Tangurena
    Oct 17, 2011 at 22:08
  • @Tangurena: When Dr. Woo hands the file to Nurse Ratchet during a conversation in Chairman Mao's office, the original person to check-out the document and the file's location are both lost. Oct 18, 2011 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


My recommendation is to consider RFID instead. Tag the folders with RFID tags. Have scanners on the doors to the offices. Printable tags run about 25 cents each. Wall-mounted RFID readers can be obtained for $100-300 each.

Based on previous experiences, I suspect that when people are in a hurry, they will skip the barcode scanning. RFID is something hand-free that will happen no matter how distracted or hurried the staff are. My local library went to RFID for books, CDs and DVDs. This allows folks to check books out by themselves and replaced barcode readers.

If you prefer to continue with a barcode solution, SystemID is a company that I've dealt with before that has reasonably inexpensive products.

  • There was an issue with buying expensive hardware (e.g., web cams are $15). Thanks for this! Oct 14, 2011 at 19:53
  • 2
    Good idea on the RFID - even though cost is higher than hand scanners, it removes a step that is easily overlooked, forgotten, or omitted in a hurry.
    – IAbstract
    Oct 14, 2011 at 20:06
  • Additionally, they can install wireless RFID readers at arbitrary locations. I like this concept. Oct 14, 2011 at 20:26

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