Barcoding Blood, Bile and Brain

toetagKeep track of bodies with barcodes.

Fresno County, California barcodes its dead bodies. In life, names are inextricably linked to identity. They carry texture and connotation. For this reason, the concept of being assigned a barcode jars us. But just as having a name in life serves certain functions, so does having a barcode in death. Barcodes are proven tools for effective inventory tracking and the fact is, to the Coroner’s office, dead bodies are inventory.

The barcode system is currently being integrated with the Coroner’s Case Management System.

TLP2844The barcodes will track the bodies, just like inventory. When the body is received, it will be given a barcode  The system employs eight Zebra TLP2844 barcode printers. These printers are capable of printing barcodes of varying size. Some will be loaded with 1 inch x 1 inch paper for slides. others will have a standard 2 inch x 4 inch paper and yet another will print a wrist or ankle band, likely an ankle band since staff are accustomed to the toe tag. The barcodes will contain the case number, name, date of death. The weight system and lab system will also be using the barcodes, significantly reducing human error.

Weight is an important number, even in death. If you’re 108 pound loved one’s weight has been incorrectly recorded by the Coroner, they may be difficult to identify. Under the new system, the Autopsy Technician (AT) will receive the body, weigh, measure, photograph, and fingerprint the deceased, but an in-floor weight scale will record the weight.  The AT will simply scan the wrist/ankle bracelet with a barcode reader attached to the in-floor scale. The barcode will contain the Coroner Case Management system (Web CME) case number. The case number and weight will be sent back to the system to be imported into the database.  

Hand-held barcode scanners will be used to read the ankle/wrist band. Everything pertaining to that body will receive the same barcode; property associated with the body, specimen bottles, tissue slides, blood, brain and bile. The wall of the cold storage unit will also be barcoded so determining who is on which shelf is easy. The Fresno Coroner’s office has an average of 30-40 bodies in storage at a time.

The barcodes will also track status, significantly increasing visibility. Staff will be able to monitor where the body is in the process. For example, has autopsy been completed? The body passes through multiple hands before reaching the funeral director: Autopsy Tech, Deputy Coroner, Pathologist. Additionally, all samples go to a third party lab, whom I’m told is also excited by Fresno’s move to barcodes.  The implementation makes electronic results a viable future option.

Clearly, barcoded bodies are in everyone’s best interest. After all, when you’re dead you can’t defend yourself against a case of mistaken identity. The barcodes represent signifcantly streamlined processes for the staff which will translate into cost savings for the County. The entire implementation including 8 Zebra barcode printers along with various other equipment such as signature pads, rugged laptops, large monitors for the autopsy rooms, and fingerprint devices comes in around $40k. A small price to pay for a significant move towards efficiency, not to mention peace of mind. While dead bodies are, indeed, inventory, they are not pieces of meat. Their uniqueness must be preserved.

Special Thanks to Claudia L. Harrell, Sr. Information Technology Analyst, County of Fresno - ITSD




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