qr code tattoo
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tl:dr – click here

I’ve been heard here on the topic of getting a barcode tattooed on my neck to avoid having to fill out another one of those damned forms-on-a-clipboard at a medical provider’s office. I’ve also been heard all over the interwebz (mostly Twitter) on the excrescence that is poly-portalitis syndrome (PPS), caused by the plethora of portals presented by providers under current EHR adoption drive.

In late 2013, I had a V-8 forehead slap moment, realizing that a QR code – I have created several of those, including the one (different than the tattoo!) on my business card – would be a great way to accomplish my objective. QR code reader smartphone apps are in relatively common use, and I also figured that a tattoo would be a conversation starter in the rooms where I work to shift the medical-industrial complex’s thinking on patient engagement and participatory medicine.

Even though it took me over six months to find a tattoo artist willing to do this – and I live in the 3rd most tattooed city in America, according to a Today Show story in 2010 –  and then another couple months to gather the shekels to pay for it, almost a year ago, on June 18, 2014, I presented myself at Graffiti’s Ink Gallery for my inkapalooza.

This was not my first tattoo rodeo. I had done what I thought was required due-diligence in researching the size and pixel resolution on the QR code itself, and had had a couple of meetings with the artist to make sure we were on the same ink dot. I created a page on this site, password-protected it, created a QR code that linked to that page, and we were good to go.

On that page, after you plug in the password that’s inked at the bottom of the tattoo (and is not fully visible in any picture of it that has been shared online, anywhere), you see two documents:

  • My Microsoft Healthvault [MSFT shut down Healthvault in 2019, I’ve moved my data to GetRealHealth‘s Lydia app] export document in PDF, which has
    • My full health history back to Year 1 of my life
    • Medication record, past and current
    • Allergies
    • Emergency contact
    • Primary care MD info
    • Insurance info
  • My Advance Directive (everyone should have one – build your own by clicking this link)

I think I scared the artist-kid during the actual tattooing process, by the way. For the uninitiated, getting a tattoo on a bony part of your body – skull, spine, STERNUM – can hurt like a mother. I have a large, 5 color tattoo on my right shoulder blade that, 20+ years later, I can still recall hurting pretty hard during its application. I knew going in that this would be ouch-y, but at [redacted] years of age, after navigating cancer treatment and other slings and arrows of outrageous medical fortune, tattoo ouch-ies ain’t a thing in my world.

The artist had, I discovered later, booked out 3+ hours on his schedule for me that day, figuring that I’d be asking for frequent breaks due to the pain of application. I didn’t stop him once, and he finished up in just over an hour. He looked at me in a way that made me think he was waiting for me to eat some broken glass, or a couple razor blades. Again, given my time on the planet and my life experience, 60+ minutes of having my sternum hammered by a tattoo needle wasn’t a big deal.

Why did I do this? Because I’ve been waiting for the medical-industrial complex to deliver on their promise of health information exchange (HIE), the promise that they’ve been making for years, but have yet to fork over. I can, and do, securely move money around the globe at the click of a mouse. I do it via bank accounts, purchase agreements, contracts with clients. Most people do. But my healthcare record – which is MINE, as much as it is the property of the medical providers who gave the care it describes – is in fractured bits and pieces all over ever’where.

So I rolled my own, and nailed it to my sternum. Any questions?

Why I got a QR code tattooed on my sternum
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