Large hospitals, IDNs drive use of RFID in healthcare settings

By Bernie Monegain
12:00 AM

The market for or radio frequency identification (RFID) in healthcare is booming, according to a new report from the Spyglass Consulting Group.

The adoption and investment in RFID solutions - primarily to track high-value mobile assets, patients and staff members - represents a 204 percent increase from Spyglass' 2005 RFID study, said Gregg Malkary, Spyglass' managing director.

"It solves a real problem of tracking assets, patients and staff," he said.

"RFID investments are growing exponentially as healthcare organizations develop a better understanding of the technology and how it can be used to solve real problems within their facility," Malkary added. "RFID solutions are being deployed to enhance patient safety, increase operational efficiency and optimize business workflow processes. Larger organizations are more likely to make RFID investments than smaller hospitals because they have larger physical footprint making it more difficult to track things."

The Spyglass study found that 76 percent of larger healthcare organizations have invested in RFID-based solutions.

"Trends in RFID 2008" presents the findings of an end-user market study focused on the current state of RFID adoption by larger healthcare organizations across the United States.

Key findings include:

  • RFID investments are focused on departmental applications. Department heads and business managers are making investments in RFID to solve specific business problems. Hospital administrators are reluctant to embrace RFID solutions for enterprise-wide deployment until the clinical, financial and operational efficacy of these solutions can be demonstrated to provide value for the entire organization.
  • RFID tracking solutions provide compelling value proposition. RFID solutions for tracking high-value mobile assets, patients and medical staff provide healthcare organizations with a compelling value proposition to increase operational efficiency, optimize patient flow interactions and streamline workflow processes. These solutions automate paper-based workflow processes where few alternative IT solutions exist.
  • Passive RFID solutions are emerging for niche applications, especially in specific hospital departments for inventory management, patient identification and quality assurance.

"Trends in RFID 2008" was based on 100 interviews with healthcare professionals working in pharmacy, clinical engineering, materials management, laboratory and medical/nursing informatics. The telephone interviews were conducted over a three-month period starting in March.

Malkary views the explosion in healthcare RFID market as "the beginning of the curve." The market will grow, he predicts, as hospitals and other healthcare organizations figure out how to incorporate the analytics that can be derived from tracking.

While some RFID users have expressed concern over the findings of a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association about the hazards from electromagnetic interference associated with the use of RFID, most are taking a wait-and-see approach, Malkary said.

Malkary said RFID proponents have told him there are some clinical advantages that could be derived from RFID as well, such as being able to connect the patient with anything - instruments, clothing and supplies - with which he's come in contact. That could help prevent infections, for example.