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Mississippi Blood Services Banks on RFID

The not-for-profit organization tested an RFID system to manage and track blood, improve safety, make deliveries more timely and lower costs.
By Samuel Greengard
When employees pull RFID labels off the blood bags, that could damage the transponders. So MBS has had to train workers to leave the labels in place—even if they aren't in the precise position (with RFID, the exact label position is less important). The company is also working on developing a resin that sets up after about 5 seconds rather than instantly.

Although the RFID system works effectively and accurately, MBS faces a few additional obstacles before it can be fully implemented. All blood banks are regulated by the FDA as both a drug and biological service provider. Consequently, MBS must ensure that all of its manufacturing processes and systems meet FDA guidelines.

MBS executives believe RFID will play an important role in managing blood supplies in the years ahead.

Moreover, the blood bank needs the per-unit label price to drop from about 92 cents each, as it is currently, to 25 cents apiece before it will see the initiative as cost-effective (MBS believes it can get the price down to 30 cents each by buying in large volumes). In addition, it must further integrate systems with its blood bank inventory software and achieve integration with hospitals and other medical facilities across Mississippi. At present, MBS is working with other blood centers and the International Society for Blood Transfusion (ISBT) to finalize a group of standards and make RFID tags compatible across the health-care industry.

Nevertheless, the initiative is on track—and Patel believes it will go live within the next few years. Although MBS has not been able to develop specific return-on-investment data, Patel and David Allen, president of MBS, are sold on RFID. "As a not-for-profit organization, we have to be very cognizant of our expenses," says Allen. "We saw this 'emerging' technology and knew we should explore its effectiveness in improving patient safety...but it wasn't until I heard that Wal-Mart was going to require all of its vendors to begin using RFID that I knew it could be made cost-effective."

MBS executives believe RFID will play an important role in managing blood supplies in the years ahead. Therefore, they're working with representatives of several leading blood centers, research institutes and medical equipment manufacturers to develop global standards for managing blood supplies. That, in turn, could hasten the adoption of RFID in the industry and boost safety and performance. "The goal is to make sure that the technology works seamlessly across the entire industry," Patel says.

For now, the adoption of RFID is helping MBS move into the 21st century. The organization is continuing to study RFID and gain insights into how to use the system to maximum advantage. "We feel this initiative will not only give us an edge with our internal operations," says Allen, "but improve patient safety and efficiency within the hospital. RFID represents the future of the industry."

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