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What Is the Impact of RFID on Health Care?

Posted By RFID Journal, 03.18.2015

How has radio frequency identification helped hospitals and pharmacies? And why aren't all medical facilities using the technology?

—Name withheld

———

A few weeks ago, I responded to a similar question (see What Are the Applications for RFID in Health Care?) and listed six common applications in health care. I encourage you to read that post, because it provides links to articles about hospitals that have deployed RFID systems for these applications.

There are only a handful of medical facilities that have deployed more than one or two of these applications so far, but the impact in each area is huge. Hospitals that are using RFID to track medical equipment have dramatically reduced the amount of time employees spend searching for items—from a couple of hours down to only a few minutes. They have increased asset-utilization rates, cut capital expenditures for new equipment, reduced rental fees and gained more revenue. By linking equipment used to particular patients, they are able to capture information about who should be billed for specific equipment use or treatment automatically.

Asset-tracking systems have reduced the incidence of lost and stolen equipment, by providing visibility into where the items are located and which are leaving a facility. One hospital was losing 50 wheelchairs a year, because patients being sent home would be wheeled out to a car and some would wind up keeping the wheelchairs.

Some hospitals are using RFID for regulatory compliance. This reduces or eliminates the amount of labor required to collect information required by governments. In the United States, for example, many hospitals send workers to record the temperatures of refrigerators every hour. Active RFID tags with sensors can report the temperature every minute automatically.

Tracking hand-washing compliance has become a popular application, particularly in the United States, where there is a big push to reduce hospital-acquired infections. It blows my mind that physicians don't wash their hands 150 years after we discovered that doctors were passing streptococcus progenies bacteria to pregnant women during childbirth and killing some of them in the process. But hospitals that do use RFID to encourage compliance see rates of hospital-acquired infections decline dramatically.

A few hospitals have started to use RFID to improve patient flow. The RFID systems provide data about how long patients spend getting particular procedures and then address the reasons some take too long. Alerts can be set up when patients check in and out, so bed turnover (and revenue) can be increased.

Patient safety was among the first applications of RFID in health care. When babies were kidnapped from the maternity ward, some hospitals began strapping active RFID transponders to the ankles of newborns. The system was set up to sound an alarm of any tagged infant who got too close to an exit. Since then, the systems have become more sophisticated, and hospitals are also using them to generate alerts if an Alzheimer's patient wanders off, if a patient falls, if a nurse feels threatened or if someone comes in contact with a patient with a highly infectious disease; this was used in Singapore, for example, during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak several years ago (see Singapore Seeks Leading RFID Role and Singapore Fights SARS With RFID).

So the impact of RFID on hospitals is that they become safer, more efficient, more profitable and more responsive to patients. But don't ask me why all hospitals are not using the technology. I do not know.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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