Why RFID is integral to the future of hospital management

Published June 6, 2017
By Prasanth Aby Thomas

The concept of “smart” technology is making inroads to various industries and health care is no exception. Hospitals, today, are taking bold steps towards making use of modern solutions to better manage their resources and ensure the best service to their patients.

By some definitions, a smart, digitized hospital is one in which data is collected from critical sources, organized, stored and is kept ready for retrieval whenever necessary. For such a meticulous approach towards information, hospitals are increasingly making use of RFID technology.

According to Jeremy Schenof, Senior Director of Global RFID Solutions at Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions, RFID solutions have demonstrated compelling benefits for hospital management across multiple applications.

“Key use cases and benefits for hospital management include myriad of solutions and processes,” Schenof said.  “When applied to pharmacy kits manual processing is reduced and staff are able to engage in more patient-facing activities; this also reduces waste from expiring drugs, and can help in thwarting theft of narcotics and other sought-after drugs. With high-value supplies, you’re saving time taking inventory, more accurately capturing chargebacks, and reducing waste from expired products, a common trend. RFID enables specimen tracking, which enhances labor productivity and error reduction. When it comes to controlled drugs, the technology can better prevent and monitor theft and abuse. Additionally, high-value medication carrying costs are reduced through better inventory management including expiry date visibility.”

Within the hospital operations, a good example of a section that makes use of RFID is the surgery room. Needless to say, when going into a surgery it is essential that surgeons and nurses have all the necessary equipment at hand. To this end, equipment can be tagged with RFID, enabling the personnel to track equipment within seconds and ensure the best care for the patients.

Protecting and Managing Staff

Tracking and protecting infrastructure is seen as the primary purpose of RFID in hospitals. However, the technology’s real role goes beyond that, to ensuring the safety of staff and inpatients.

“RFID solutions are primarily used to protect hospital infrastructure, as opposed to staff,” Schenof said. “However, RFID can be used to track staff and patient, specifically babies, location, so in the event of an emergency, staff can easily be located. RFID also helps hospitals protect their infrastructure by helping them understand where items, inventory and technology may be, so expensive assets aren’t lost. RFID may also assist in providing controlled access to operating theatres, nurseries, and other critical areas.”
Ken Horton, CEO of Vizinex RFID, pointed out that most security systems are RFID based. They aid in preventing unauthorized access and in tracking the location of personnel in the facility.

An example of a successful implementation of an RFID system can be seen in redesigned emergency room at the Mayo Clinic’s Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, according to a report on HBR.org. The system has reportedly reduced the time that employees spend on finding equipment and each other and it informs them when a colleague is attending a patient and shouldn’t be disturbed. Other improvements include family members being directed to the patients faster, easier locating of lost equipment and returning them to the right places.

Contributing to Patient Safety

According to Schenof, a number of RFID solutions are designed to improve patient safety. “Using RFID to monitor handwashing compliance for hospital has been shown to reduce infections among patients,” he said. “Using RFID to more accurately count surgical sponges to avoid issues of retained sponges. Ensuring patients receive the correct medicine and anesthetics. Tracking blood bags with RFID to reduce errors in donation and storage.”
A similar reply was given by Horton as well, who listed the different kinds of solutions that come into play here.

  1. Solutions that track whether a staff person has washes their hands
  2. Solutions that enable rapid patient identification and matching with medications
  3. Solutions that track device life cycle

               i.Ensuring proper end of life is signaled
               ii.Ensuring proper sterilization processes have occurred
               iii.Ensuring needed maintenance and upgrade of devices is performed
               iv.Facilitating rapid identification of devices/supplies that are the subject of a recall or maintenance bulletin

  1. Real Time Location systems enable staff to quickly locate needed devices
  2. Pairing systems that ensure the proper configuration of parent and child devices (e.g. an endoscope to its processor unit)
  3. Consumables verification systems – ensure proper chemistries/reagents are used with specific instruments/tests.

Better hospital management

Improved management of resources, including staff contribute to improved hospital management. Tagging critical materials like medicine and equipment help track asset movement. Horton added that RFID systems that are relevant here include loss prevention systems that signal personnel when devices are moving out of their designated area of use. There are also asset management programs that facilitate the effective management of hospital assets and ensure high utilization and prevent over-investment in capital assets.

“Real Time Location systems enable staff to quickly locate needed devices,” Horton listed out others. “There are RFID based pharmacy management systems that facilitate real time management of pharmacological inventory. There are RFID based supplies/consumables management systems that facilitate real time tracking of these inventories.”

Finally, there are solutions that track a device’s life cycle. This would ensure proper end-of-life disposal, proper sterilization processes, tracking required maintenance and upgradation and facilitating rapid identification of devices/supplies that are subject of a recall or maintenance bulletin.

Such efficient management apart, hospitals are also discovering other benefits of using RFID solutions. A fascinating case study reported by MedCity News explained that Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance in Fort Worth is using data gathered from RFID tags to develop big data insights. Given such developments, it can be assumed that we are only seeing the beginning of the potential usage of RFID in this vertical.