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RFID Helps Protect CT Patients from Medication Errors

Pre-filled syringes are being labeled with RFID tags and read by automatic injection machines to make sure patients about to have CT scans are injected with the correct solutions and to prevent use of expired product or reused syringes.
Aug 07, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

August 7, 2008—Healthcare products supplier Covidien introduced an RFID-based system designed to make CT ("cat") scan procedures safer for patients and more convenient for radiology technicians. Most patients receive separate injections of saline and a contrast media fluid prior to a CT scan to improve the CT image. Machines are often used to give the injections, but patients are at risk of the wrong substance being injected, or being injected with air because empty syringes were used. Covidien Imaging Solutions is trying to prevent these errors by offering an option to its OptiVantage DH injector that uses RFID to validate syringe contents prior to injection.

"Typically there has been a lot of manual intervention needed to make sure syringes were loaded and verified so the patient received the proper injection," Jeff Lockwood, Covidien Imaging Solutions' director of marketing, told RFID Update.

Covidien Imaging Solutions provides injection machines and contrast media, but not imaging equipment. It packages contrast media and saline into disposable, single-use syringes that can be loaded directly into its injection machines. The syringes are now available with all pertinent information printed on the label and encoded into an embedded 13.56 MHz passive RFID tag. The tag is encoded with the type of product (contrast media or saline), dosage, lot number and expiration date.

There is no change for radiology technician procedures. Technicians use a touchscreen on the injection machine to input patient information and configure the machine for a specific procedure, then load two syringes, one filled with contrast media, the other with saline. At that point an RFID reader/encoder integrated into the injector reads the syringe labels and validates whether the products and dosages are correct for the procedure. The system also detects expired product or empty syringes, and stops the procedure until they are replaced.

CCL Label produces the syringe labels for Covidien using RFID inlays from Texas Instruments. TI also provided the components Covidien used to create the reader/encoder embedded in its injector.

Following a successful injection, the reader/encoder overwrites the tags on the syringes to indicate they were used. That prevents empty syringes that are accidentally left in the injector from being reused, which can result in an injection of air that can cause a fatal embolism.

"Air injections occur far too often. Even one is too many," said Lockwood. "Radiology is not immune from medication errors."

A 2005 analysis by U.S. Pharmacopeia found 2,032 radiology errors reached patients. U.S. Pharmacopeia is a non-governmental, non-profit agency that collects healthcare safety data and develops standards to improve patient safety and quality of care.

The system automatically captures the patient ID and setup information entered by the radiology technician and combines it with the data from the RFID reads to create a complete record. A small mobile printer automatically creates a receipt-style label that can be added to the patient chart. The automatic data capture and printing eliminate the need for technicians to manually record procedure codes and activity records.

RFID-enabled OptiVantage DH injectors are currently operating in about nine U.S. healthcare facilities, according to Lockwood. The company announced general availability of the system to U.S. customers this week. Lockwood said Covidien plans to offer the system internationally and may integrate RFID technology with other products.

RFID is currently used to ensure the correct orthopedic implants are delivered for surgeries (see RFID Yields Quick ROI for Orthopedic Products Maker and RFID Ensures Surgeons Have No Bones to Pick with Supplier) and for some automated medication dispensing, but this is believed to be the first system for radiology processes.
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