RFID use is expanding in healthcare. How do you see it improving patient safety and clinician efficiency?
Medication errors continue to be a problem despite a concerted effort by many to prevent them. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), an organization dedicated to eliminating medication errors, has made a significant positive impact. Yet these errors continue to occur, as witnessed by the unfortunate incident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which resulted in patient death, criminal charges, and a conviction of the nurse involved. Existing barcode technology, which has been in place for years, has had some impact yet remains ineffective in preventing these errors. Humans make mistakes. Not intentionally, yet errors can happen in the hectic nature of being a clinician working under stressful conditions. The key to resolving this problem is to utilize technology that eliminates the need for human intervention.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is the ideal technology to enable the medication management process. In addition to being a superior inventory management system, RFID is used to catch problems before they happen, such as keeping expired medications out of dispensing areas of care settings. RFID can identify critical information at the individual item level, such as drug name, lot number, expiration date, and other information, without requiring a human to scan each product. In addition, using IoT capabilities with RFID systems allows clinicians to identify who the patient is, what drug(s) were removed from the cabinet to administer, and compare the drug(s) to the physician’s order and pharmacist approval to instantly verify the right drug has been pulled for the right patient. Instant verification is a compelling reason the industry and healthcare providers should continue to adapt and advance RFID use.
What are the current challenges in adopting RFID in healthcare?
Healthcare is a broad term, and several RFID applications are in use today. Those applications include tracking assets, patients, staff, supplies, and medications. Of these applications, I believe the biggest opportunity exists in using RFID to track and manage medications — this is where the technology can produce the most significant positive outcomes.
Hospital pharmacies face several complex challenges. Many of those challenges can be solved by adopting technologies from industries performing well in critical areas such as supply chain management, inventory control, product tracking, reducing shrinkage (diversion), and other related issues facing today’s hospitals. A prime example is looking at the retail segment. Chains such as Walmart, Nordstrom, and others are successfully employing RFID to manage inventory and reduce diversion. Statistics indicate that inventory accuracy increases from 65% to 98% when implementing RFID solutions, resulting in greater efficiencies and reduced costs. Diversion is also substantially reduced. Shortages throughout the supply chains are better managed with fewer stockouts. These are outcomes every hospital pharmacy needs today. RFID allows pharmacists to work at the top of their license, focusing on patients and not inventory.
Where do you see the future of RFID in healthcare?
We have a significant healthcare infrastructure problem in this country. Hospital operating systems are old, complex, and difficult to manage. We don’t know where products are. We spend significant time managing shortages while identifying accurate costs is a challenge for most facilities. Government regulations are supposed to protect the medication supply chain yet are easy for counterfeiters to bypass. Overall, hospitals are slow to adopt new technologies to protect old legacy outdated systems. Technology like RFID and IoT applications can address these issues and allow hospitals to better control their operations. It is a sad situation when a major consumer brand can track an individual clothing item, such as a shirt, from the point of manufacture, through distribution and shipping, all the way to the purchase of the item. Yet, hospitals have difficulty knowing where a single dose of expensive medication is located. The future is promising because we don’t need to invent anything. We need to adopt existing new technologies to solve grand challenges. I’m optimistic.
Fresenius Kabi recognizes the importance of continually innovating the pharmaceutical industry with auto-identification technologies to support accurate, efficient data collection and safer patient care. We value the opinions of industry leaders in this field working to achieve this common goal.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the company they represent or Fresenius Kabi USA, LLC.