As a pharmacist who has worked at the crossroads of healthcare and technology, one thing I continually ruminate on is what the future might look like in healthcare. You can pretty much pick any facet of treating patients and see innovation happening (I.E., medication drone delivery, digital therapeutics, smart patient monitoring, pharmacogenetics). One thing is clear — healthcare will increasingly generate data, and that information will be used to drive better control and decision making. One such innovation that has caught my attention is the emergence of hospital at home care models. I first heard about this concept in 2020, when some of the leading hospital systems announced their own programs, and subsequent venture investments in the firms that enable them. Recently, in the November issue of the American Journal of Health system Pharmacy, an article was published titled, “Developing Pharmacy Services in a Home Hospital Program: The Mayo Clinic Experience.” This article brings up some of the challenges of pharmaceutical care within the home hospital. How does an inpatient pharmacy shift from the tightly controlled inventory achieved through 24-hour central pharmacy, robotics, and ADCs to dispensing medications within a patient’s home while maintaining the same level of control and safety (especially for DEA controlled medications)?
Let me answer that question with a question. What is a technology that enables real-time inventory control, without the need for human readable scanning, can be scanned remotely, and can improve medication safety? The answer to my leading question is radio frequency identification (RFID). Working for one of the first pharma manufactures to start adding RFID tags to our product labels, I’ve gotten to see first-hand how RFID can enable tighter control and help workflows within the hospital. The benefits of RFID seem to overcome some of the challenges I’ve read about when developing pharmacy services for hospital at home programs. When thinking about use cases of the future I envision a mobile case capable of scanning medications, keeping track of real-time inventory in transit to the patient’s house, along with medications stored at the patient’s home. Each time medications are accessed, it would give that information back to the care team (and communicate with the EHR), potentially improving safety around the self-administration process.
Lastly, if controlled substances are being utilized, RFID adds tighter control and real-time views into location, and quantity on-hand. While I’ve not seen any vendors that have configured their software for this purpose, I have seen readers that accomplish what is described above (Example: https://www.tersosolutions.com/rfid-mobile-devices/). While I’m sure technology vendors will continue to meet these challenges in their own way, it’s worth asking if RFID has a role in this up-and-coming hospital care model.