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New RFID Medical Cabinets Deployed at 50 Hospitals

ASD Healthcare and Blue Vector announced RFID-based drug cabinets they developed have been installed in more than 50 hospitals. Active RFID tags are applied to individual drug doses so an in-cabinet reader can monitor inventory levels for automated replenishment. Other integrated sensors monitor storage conditions and issue alerts.
Sep 17, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 17, 2007—ASD Healthcare is relying on RFID to ensure hospitals maintain inventories of critical specialty drugs and to prevent the medications from spoiling. More than 50 hospitals are using a medication dispensing cabinet that ASD Healthcare developed with Blue Vector that monitors RFID-tagged medications stored inside it, automatically issues alerts when they are nearing their expiration dates, issues warnings if storage temperatures near unacceptable levels, and monitors inventory consumption to automatically generate replenishment orders.

Most hospitals lose $50,000 to $100,000 annually because of spoiled drugs, John Beans of Blue Vector told RFID Update. Blue Vector and ASD Healthcare developed the new Cubixx refrigerated dispensing cabinet to combat this problem. So far it is only being used to manage specialty pharmaceuticals, which can cost $200 to $3,000 per dose, Beans said.

ASD Healthcare installs the cabinets free as part of a service it offers to hospital customers. The service places responsibility for inventory management on ASD Healthcare. It promises to ensure hospitals have adequate supplies, and protects them from losses. ASD Healthcare launched the service in June, and more than 50 hospitals now use it, according to Beans.

The Cubixx refrigerated cabinets have an RFID reader to monitor tagged medications on its shelves, a sensor to monitor the door, and a temperature sensor. An Edge Manager appliance from Blue Vector is connected to the outside of the cabinet to monitor all RFID and sensor data. The appliance is networked to ASD Healthcare's headquarters, where a Blue Vector Network Manager device monitors the Edge Managers and can act on the real-time sensor data it receives. For example, if a cabinet door is left open too long, or storage temperatures start rising quickly, the host application can send an alert to the hospital.

The in-cabinet RFID reader monitors inventory levels. As part of the service, ASD Healthcare automatically restocks drugs that are running low. It also uses real-time item-level inventory status to transfer drugs that are nearing their expiration date to facilities where they are more likely to be consumed, thus reducing spoilage.

ASD Healthcare relabels the drugs it stocks in the Cubixx cabinets with matchbook-size 433 MHz active RFID tags from RF Code. The tags are shrink-wrapped to each individual dose of the medication. When a dose is taken from the cabinet for dispensing its tag is removed and put into an attached recycling bin. The tags are later re-encoded and used again.

"You wouldn't think of a small, confined cabinet as being an active RFID environment, but they needed rock-solid coverage and inventory accuracy," said Beans.

Hospitals have asked ASD Healthcare to expand the RFID program to other pharmaceuticals and supplies, according to Beans. He noted the company is part of $64 billion pharmaceutical supplier AmeriSource Bergen, which is studying the system as a model for other distribution.

"One of the things that's very important to AmeriSource Bergen is chain of custody. The essence of the pedigree regulations and pending regulations is to be able to provide documentation on where drugs came from and where they were delivered to. This system extends visibility one step farther into the supply chain. Instead of tracking to delivery to the customer, it goes right up to the time of use," said Beans.

He noted there are other RFID medical cabinet products on the market and several projects have been announced, but nothing on the scale of ASD Healthcare's deployment.

ASD Healthcare did not participate in the RFID medical cabinet benchmark testing recently completed by ODIN technologies. ODIN's Diana Hage pronounced the participating products "ready for prime time" and was enthusiastic about the product category. "[These products] are solving very particular applications and use cases, so there is a lot of efficiency and value that they drive," she told RFID Update earlier this week (see RFID Medical Cabinets Evaluated in New Benchmark).
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