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Open Access Research article

Usability of a barcode scanning system as a means of data entry on a PDA for self-report health outcome questionnaires: a pilot study in individuals over 60 years of age

Patrick Boissy12*, Karen Jacobs3 and Serge H Roy4

Author Affiliations

1 Research Centre on Aging, Sherbrooke Geriatric University Institute, Sherbrooke, Canada

2 Université de Sherbrooke, Department of Kinesiology, Sherbrooke, Canada

3 Boston University, Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Department of Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Counseling, Boston, USA

4 Boston University, NeuroMuscular Research Center, Boston, USA

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2006, 6:42  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-6-42

Published: 21 December 2006



Throughout the medical and paramedical professions, self-report health status questionnaires are used to gather patient-reported outcome measures. The objective of this pilot study was to evaluate in individuals over 60 years of age the usability of a PDA-based barcode scanning system with a text-to-speech synthesizer to collect data electronically from self-report health outcome questionnaires.


Usability of the system was tested on a sample of 24 community-living older adults (7 men, 17 women) ranging in age from 63 to 93 years. After receiving a brief demonstration on the use of the barcode scanner, participants were randomly assigned to complete two sets of 16 questions using the bar code wand scanner for one set and a pen for the other. Usability was assessed using directed interviews with a usability questionnaire and performance-based metrics (task times, errors, sources of errors).


Overall, participants found barcode scanning easy to learn, easy to use, and pleasant. Participants were marginally faster in completing the 16 survey questions when using pen entry (20/24 participants). The mean response time with the barcode scanner was 31 seconds longer than traditional pen entry for a subset of 16 questions (p = 0.001). The responsiveness of the scanning system, expressed as first scan success rate, was less than perfect, with approximately one-third of first scans requiring a rescan to successfully capture the data entry. The responsiveness of the system can be explained by a combination of factors such as the location of the scanning errors, the type of barcode used as an answer field in the paper version, and the optical characteristics of the barcode scanner.


The results presented in this study offer insights regarding the feasibility, usability and effectiveness of using a barcode scanner with older adults as an electronic data entry method on a PDA. While participants in this study found their experience with the barcode scanning system enjoyable and learned to become proficient in its use, the responsiveness of the system constitutes a barrier to wide-scale use of such a system. Optimizing the graphical presentation of the information on paper should significantly increase the system's responsiveness.