Monday, May 4, 2015

tracking objects

As I learned during my recent tour of a Dutch hospital, tracking and tracing is becoming ever more important in the circulation of objects in hospital pneumatic tube systems. Tracking systems are used in hospitals to not only keep a trace of the movement of capsules, but also link into other networks in hospitals, such as pharmaceutical information systems for example, or automated robots delivering medications. Through the use of barcodes, moving objects in the hospital can be counted, traced, and eventually, can become linked to the individuals who send and retrieve them. In hospitals everything needs to be accountable, and actions need to be traced in case things go wrong. 

How do such infrastructures work in practice though? As anthropologists have shown in their work in hospitals, work doesn't always follow flow-charts and checklists. Has someone written a social or cultural study of the hospital barcode I wonder? I am interested to learn more and to think further about how the traces of contemporary pneumatic tube transport may relate to those of the past, in postal systems for example, when a letter's journey was marked by stamps and creases.

Image from Wikipedia.

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