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RFID: THE MEDICAL MIRACLE

RFID tops the chart in medicine with vastly increased safety, efficiency and ROI. Mobile technology, has the potential to change healthcare. But the kind of wireless technology that could make the greatest impact is radio frequency identification (RFID).

RFID tops the chart in medicine with vastly increased safety, efficiency and ROI

Atsushi Koshio is Director of Healthcare Business at medRF, a wireless health strategy consultancy based  in  Tokyo.  He  has  a  finger  on  the  pulse  of Japan's healthcare industry, where wireless solutions have flourished since the 1990s. Mobile technology, he thinks, has the potential to change healthcare.  But the  kind  of wireless  technology  that  could  make  the  greatest  impact, radio frequency identification (RFID), has not been widely adopted.

"RFID is not just key to making better use of physical assets," says Koshio. ―It can have a substantial  impact  on  patient  safety.  It  also  has  the  potential  to produce  a  phenomenal  return  on investment.  But  high  up  front  costs  are still proving  to  be  a  significant  barrier  to  entry,  given  the state of the economy.‖

Cost of entry for RFID may be high relative to other kinds of wireless technology but so are returns, believes Jorma Lalla, whose company Nordic ID has been busy optimizing RFID technology for the past  15  years.  The  CEO  of  the  Salo, Finland-based  RFID  mobile  computer  manufacturer  sees change on the horizon. "As the technology becomes more ubiquitous, prices drop across the board -  on tags, readers and associated devices,‖ he says. "Other supply chains are now using RFID end-to-end and I think that it won't be long before we see wholesale adoption in the field of medicine. Besides, it's a perfect fit with the criticality of healthcare."

RFID key to trackable processes and data

When  human  lives  hang  in  the  balance,  RFID  may  indeed  be  a  perfect fit. RFID  tags  have  the capacity to record new data almost indefinitely, resulting in mountains of information attached to the item  or  person  in  question, reducing the  possibility  of  error  and  obviating  the  need  to  scan and connect to a remote database.

RFID tags can form part of a hospital wristband, a blood product label, a biomedical implant or any medical device. They can be tiny or large, immersible or flexible. Unlike barcodes, tags can also be read from meters away, for example by an interrogator mounted on the ceiling or beside a door.

Koshio  and  Lalla  both  agree  that  affordability  is  the  single  largest  barrier in the  health  sector worldwide.  "But it's definitely where wireless use in healthcare will end up,‖ says Koshio. "The advantages of RFID over any other technology are just so overwhelming."

RFID increases blood tracking safety & efficiency

To date, RFID has made some important inroads in various healthcare niches around the world. At a  blood  processing  center  on  the  Spanish  island  of Mallorca,  for  example,  RFID  has  increased efficiency, safety and maximized the use of a perishable resource.

Traditional,  barcode-based  blood  product  tracking  meant  unpacking  crates  of frozen  blood  bags and scanning or reading each bag in turn - no small task with 30,000 bags packed 80 to a crate in a  deep  freezer.  A  complicating  factor  is that  each  bag  was  tagged  with  up  to  six  barcodes  as  it passed through the stages of its journey. These all needed to be scanned at each step.

RFID  tags  have  shortcut  the  process  by  storing  all  information - including  a record  of  ambient temperature over time - on each bag's re-recordable RFID tag. Staff can quickly find blood bags by scanning  up  to  400  bags  per  second and  drilling  down  to  see  all  the  information  associated  with any bag. Because it used to take so long to find the right bag in subarctic temperatures, staff might have  ended  their  search  more  quickly  by  sending  a  28-day  old bag  of  blood  of  the  correct  type. Now  the  optimal  bag - that  closest  to expiry - is  quickly  found  and  put  to  use,  maximizing  a precious resource.

 

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Hospital returns 186% on RFID investment

RFID recently hit the mainstream at a major California hospital when the health centre became one of  the  first  in  the  U.S.  to  jump  high  and  clear  over  the RFID  cost  barrier.  In  May  2010,  Mission Hospital,  the  largest  healthcare provider  in  Orange  County,  rolled  out  a  hybrid  RFID/  infrared tracking system. Mike Kohler, the hospital's Director of Material Management, has never looked back. He pegs ROI to date at 186%.

"I don't know how a large medical centre can continue to maintain all the different parameters they have to and be state of the art without RFID," states Kohler. "It simplifies processes, drives down costs and you can literally raise your ability to care for patients."

The  system  implemented  at  Mission  Hospital  is  designed to  improve logistics by keeping  track  of medical devices. Each carries an RFID tag that tracks whereabouts as well as parameters such as last maintenance and/or cleaning. With a few keystrokes, administrators and medical professionals can locate all devices.  This has boosted device  utilization rates and eliminated equipment rentals and  hoarding,  a  common  problem  in  hospitals  worldwide.  Equipment shrinkage  has  also  dropped from $150,000 per year to zero.

Financial returns are just the beginning

The logistical and financial advantages are real, but Kohler sees that as just the start. "Mission has a large trauma wing with lots  of specialized equipment, some of which is called into use on other floors. When a trauma case comes in, it's critical to have that equipment ready and waiting. Since it's now tagged, we can get it back within a minute or two, ready for the patient's arrival. And in the U.S. healthcare system, that's a marketable strategic advantage."

Kohler  is  most excited about future plans to capitalize on the greatest advantage of all: RFID's capacity to improve patient care. The upcoming expansion of Mission's RFID system will center on ways to reduce cross-contamination -especially hand washing, the number one preventer of cross-infection in hospital environments. Should they neglect to wash their hands as they move in and out of patient rooms, healthcare professionals will receive alerts on their mobile devices.

Why is healthcare slow to adopt RFID?

Considering  all  the  benefits  and  the  return  on  investment,  the  question that  many  logistics professionals are asking themselves is 'Why hasn't every hospital implemented RFID already?' Part of the reason has to do with the global healthcare industry's main objection  to  adopting  ICT solutions in general: business continuity. When the ability to provide patient care is so crucial -no matter what happens - you've got to be absolutely certain that you can trust your systems. It's the reason  why  hospitals  have  generators  for  back-up power:  to  maintain  the  ability  to  provide  care, come  hell  or  high  water. Paper  may  be  hard  to  keep  track  of,  but  historically  it  has  been very reliable.

"Now that ICT solutions have proven their resilience beyond question in virtually every industry," observes Koshio, ―healthcare is moving wholesale into wireless communication adoption. We're at the cusp of a new era centered around RFID.‖ Kohler couldn't agree more. "I believe that within 15 years, virtually all healthcare processes will be electronically managed. The human component will center more around stocking and moving equipment, not managing it."

As exemplified by blood product tracking on Spain's Balearic Islands, more than just equipment and people  will  be  managed:  blood  products,  neural  implants. cardiac  valves,  bone  morphogenic proteins  and  tissue  implants  all  have expiration  dates  and  need  to  be  stored  at  the  correct temperature and humidity. RFID can help to better manage such precious resources, saving money and lives.

"If it were simply a replacement for existing technology," says Lalla, "RFID would continue its slow growth in the field of healthcare. The fact is that RFID enables hospitals to do things that they have never  done  before,  like  enforcing  hand washing  and  eliminating  hoarding  and  shrinkage.  This  is huge. It won't be long before the global healthcare sector wakes up to the tremendous advantages of RFID."

 

2 comments on “RFID: THE MEDICAL MIRACLE”

  1. Posted 23 April 2012 at 09:52:40

    Watch this nice video on RFID in hospitals:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-IfS8glE1c

  2. Posted 26 August 2016 at 00:30:38

    We are motivated to try this in a health care arena, so the above info is interesting.

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