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Marshall University Researchers Foresee a 'Perfect Storm' for RFID in Health Care

RFID technology is competing for the attention of hospital IT departments, a study says, but when deployed, it can reduce costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and benefit hospitals experiencing growth due to the Affordable Care Act.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 10, 2013

The health-care industry is poised to undergo significant changes related to information sharing and supply chain management, at the same time that the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—also known as Obamacare—is expected to swell the volume of patients that hospitals and clinics manage on a daily basis. With these changes taking place, RFID promises to be a benefit to the health-care sector, by reducing the cost of supply chain management (for tracking inventory on hand and locating missing items when needed for health-care services), according to a study conducted by researchers at Marshall University, in Huntington, W.Va. However, whether the numerous changes facing the IT departments, as well as the impending volume of patients, will encourage or discourage RFID installations has yet to be seen, says Alberto Coustasse, an associate professor of health-care administration on the faculty of Marshall University's College of Business, and a coauthor of the study. The report was published in the fall 2013 edition of Perspectives in Health Information Management, a peer-reviewed research journal. The need for electronic data management, in addition to the anticipated growth in demand for health care and health information technologies (HIT), creates what he calls "a perfect storm" that could either limit RFID deployment in the short term, or help to launch it.

Currently, the researchers say, approximately 10 percent of hospitals have an RFID-based solution in place to track equipment and supplies, using either passive or active RFID tags attached to consumables and reusable assets. That percentage is likely to rise, according to the study, but how fast this will occur depends on multiple competing issues. "The benefits from the application of RFID are potentially significant," Coustasse says, though he warns that competition from other health IT programs, as well as the lack of standardization across the sector, may delay the technology's mass adoption in the health-care market.

Marshall University's Alberto Coustasse
The Marshall University study, titled "Impact of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) Technologies on the Hospital Supply Chain: A Literature Review," analyzed published literature regarding RFID deployments. According to Coustasse, the researchers found that RFID provides significant financial benefits by decreasing supply chain costs, while the greatest barriers to adoption include pending electronic management requirements, a lack of interoperability with other systems, and the high cost of implementation without a clear return on investment (ROI).

Meanwhile, the perfect storm that Coustasse describes consists of multiple new mandates and incentive programs to better manage data that is putting pressure on hospitals' IT departments and budgets. "Organizations will be stressed because the colliding factors will all change the hospital in numerous ways," he states. For instance, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is intended to expand the adoption of health information technology, such as a nationwide network of electronic health records (EHR) or health information exchanges (HIE). This matters, he explains, because as of March 2013, there were 941 vendors providing more than 1,700 unique certified EHR products, which could create interoperability problems with RFID technology. For example, a hospital's EHR system would need to support an RFID solution that tracks patients' treatments within its emergency department.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under a mandate from Congress, has developed regulations to guide technology providers and software developers in creating certified HIE and EHR systems at hospitals. The HITECH Act provides financial incentives to medical facilities that adopt EHR technology by the end of 2014, after which it will begin imposing penalties on those that fail to meet adoptions requirements.

Hospitals are also facing an Oct. 1, 2014, mandated deadline for the adoption of the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD10) for new classification codes that must be incorporated into their records. These challenges are putting further pressure and a financial strain on IT departments, and on entire hospitals, and are causing medical facilities to weigh the costs of implementing systems in order to meet ICD10 and HITECH requirements versus the expenses related to deploying RFID. "This competition presents a very real barrier [for RFID adoption]," Coustasse says—though ironically, he adds, RFID also promises to vastly improve HIT data gathering.

"The only way I see that RFID technology adoption becomes massive in health care is through a federal mandate, like 'meaningful use,'" Coustasse says, referring to a set of rules defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) EHR incentive programs. In 2011, the American Hospital Association (AHA) recommended the use of RFID or bar codes at patients' bedside for the purpose of medication administration. Coustasse also teaches health-care informatics systems and research courses for the university's health-care administration and health informatics master's degree programs, and discovered RFID as one of his programs' research topics. In 2008, he began including RFID in his research curriculum, and both students and faculty members embarked on researching RFID deployment in the health-care market, along with the benefits the technology might provide.

USER COMMENTS

Glenn Tamir 2013-12-12 06:40:39 PM
Why is there no mention of RFID as a method of improving supply replenishment Utilizing the Kanban methodology?

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