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University of Tennessee Medical Center OR Monitors Supplies, Safety Via Trash Bins

Five of the hospital's operating rooms are already using the system to automatically identify the discarded packaging of supplies in order to document which items were used for each patient's procedure.
By Claire Swedberg
May 12, 2015

The University of Tennessee (UT) Medical Center, in Knoxville, plans to expand its use of a radio frequency identification system for tracking equipment trays and consumables within all of its 36 operating rooms. The solution, known as Continuum OR, was designed by health-care products company DeRoyal Industries, also based in Knoxville, in partnership with the UT Medical Center. Five of the hospital's ORs are already using the technology to track every item used for each surgery, based on a reading of the RFID tag on that item's wrapper as the tagged packaging is thrown into a trash bin. The UT Medical Center is also considering the use of fixed and handheld readers to perform inventory counts of medical supplies stored on shelves in its operating rooms, and to record which surgical supplies are being used on each patient.

All 36 operating rooms are expected to be equipped with RFID by fall of this year.

Amber Kennedy, a UT Medical Center orthopedic OR nurse, demonstrating a Continuum OR RFID-enabled disposal bin
In the meantime, DeRoyal Industries is marketing the Continuum OR solution, consisting of its own software, readers and tags, as well as integration, for other health-care providers. The system was designed to better ensure that the correct supplies and tools are sent to a surgeon for each surgical procedure, and to document that the proper items were used with each patient during the surgery. By the end of the year, UT Medical Center expects to begin using the system for billing patients for the products used in their operations as well.

UT Medical has 36 operating rooms, including five dedicated to orthopedics. A total of 100 surgeons conduct approximately 14,000 procedures there annually, of which 4,000 involve orthopedics.

DeRoyal CEO Brian DeBusk
Like most hospitals, UT Medical traditionally has used a doctor preference card system to equip each OR with the right equipment and supplies. The doctor tells hospital personnel which tools he or she needs for each kind of surgery, and on the scheduled day of the procedures, staff members collect those preferred items, as printed on the preference cards, and send them to the appropriate operating rooms, along with the printed cards. About 50 percent of the supplies sent to the OR are returned unused, and must be put away for another procedure. Conversely, items sometimes are not in the OR when needed during a procedure, leading to delays as employees search for them. What's more, the staff must manually check that items have not reached their expiration date.

"We wanted to completely redesign the system" of managing supplies in the OR, says Becky Ashin, the VP of UT Medical's Advanced Orthopaedic Center.

In 2013, UT Medical began working with DeRoyal Industries to devise an RFID-based solution that would help the hospital better deal with all of these issues. DeRoyal started providing operating room management software 35 years ago. In 2002, however, it sold the OR software portion of its business to General Electric (GE). Since then, DeRoyal has continued its interest in OR efficiency solutions, according to Brian DeBusk, the company's CEO. The firm began meeting with UT Medical to determine whether an RFID system would help it to manage its tools and supplies. UT Medical is currently using OR management software provided by GE.

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