Hospitals are finding ROI from RFID

'The time-savings justify the cost of the chips'
By Anthony Vecchione
11:08 AM
Busy hospital corridor

Just a few years ago, discussion of the use of radio-frequency identification in healthcare was usually limited to drug manufacturers and wholesalers, who use RFID as a way to track drug products through the supply chain or to combat counterfeit drugs.

[See also: RFID & RTLS can save lives]

Nowadays, RFID technology is being used by more and more hospitals to improve safety and efficiency.

At University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers in Ann Arbor, hospital pharmacists are using RFID to help them manage drug kits through the use of an automated pharmacy stocking system.

[See also: RFID adoption poised for ‘huge’ growth]

By utilizing cloud-based software and an RFID scanning station from Washington, DC-based Kit Check, pharmacy technicians inventory dozens of medications in seconds that are in pharmacy kits including crash carts and anesthesia trays. Previously technicians and pharmacists would inspect each kit vial individually, a process that can take up to ten times longer.

When medication trays are returned to the pharmacy from the operating room or emergency room, all the RFID-tagged meds in the drug kit – there can be as many as 198 – are scanned and a few seconds later the system tells the pharmacy technician which drugs were used and which ones are going to expire. With this information at their fingertips, the tech knows what to replenish and if the tray has been replenished correctly while at the same time generating all the regulatory paper work.  

John Clark, director of pharmacy services at the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers said that the technology not only allows the hospital to refill a kit that much faster, it also basically eliminate the errors that can happen related to incorrect or expired drugs that are in the kits.

"Kit Check helps to simplify the ability to manage drug boxes that are used for emergencies in the hospital," said Clark, who noted that prior to Kit Check, a time-consuming manual process was used. The process is made more efficient, said Clark, by not having to constantly count everything and making sure that everything is where it's supposed to be.

Mark Neuenschwander, a Bellevue, Wash.-based expert and consultant on bar code enabled medication dispensing, preparation, and administration, said that RFID readers are significant because they can quickly reveal what remains in the kit and what has been removed.

"The time savings justify the cost of the chips and the chip reading storage devices," he said.

In just three months since its implementation, Clark said that the hospital is already seen a return on investment that has been measured by a reduction of waste.

The demand for this type of technology appears to be growing. At the end of 2012, Kit Check had two hospital customers; that number grew to 43 at the end of 2013, and now exceeds 100.  

"Over time I think we're going to have more and more medications RFID tagged by manufacturers," said Kevin MacDonald, co-founder and CEO of Kit Check.

"We can help hospitals decrease the amount of medications that they need to have on hand and reduce waste in terms of expiration," he added. "That decreases inventory cost. Users also can also increase charge capture and decrease both overtime labor and general labor that's required to process kits manually."

Niche market for RIFD

At the University of California San Diego Medical Center, RFID is helping to monitor plasma and specialty products more efficiently.

Using the Cubixx consignment service from Frisco, Texas-based ASD Healthcare, a division of Amerisource Bergen, healthcare professionals are able to provide life-saving products such as the antihemophilic blood factor products and rattlesnake anti-venom.

Products have RFID tags that allow Cubixx to monitor inventory 24/7 and replenish stock to bring it back to an established par level. "The system is set up so that you will always have products in stock to service critical patient needs at any time," said purchasing manager Danielle Kulischak.

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