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Podiatry Clinic Steps Into RFID for Tool Tracking

The Surgical Safety Scanner system enables Great Lakes Foot and Ankle Specialists to reduce tool-counting times, prevent the loss of medical instruments, and identify which tools were used in surgery and sterilized—as well as when this occurred.
By Claire Swedberg

The software displays an alert if any item is unaccounted for. In the event that a tool is missing, a picture and description of that instrument are displayed on the screen. The system also enables workers to override it if necessary by inputting information during surgery, such as an RFID tag no longer functioning, thereby ensuring that the non-working tag's ID does not appear in the system as a missing tool.

Tags are again read prior to the dirty tools being put into a cleaning and sterilization unit, and once more as they come out. By accomplishing these tag reads, a user can create a record of what was sterilized, and when this took occurred.

Great Lakes Foot and Ankle Specialists is using the technology in the manner described above, and has also been conducting three daily inventory checks of the trays within its cupboard: at the beginning, middle and end of each day. The clinic, the system's first user, instructed Surgical Scanner to apply tags to all of its tools (about 250 to 300, Szczepanski says) two years ago. What began as a trial is now transitioning into a full deployment.

Most of the podiatry clinic's trays have 10 to 12 instruments packed on them, with 20 to 25 packed trays being tracked throughout the office. Automating the counting processes, Szczepanski explains, makes staff members less likely to lose a tool—and if one does end up missing during surgery, it can be more quickly found via a handheld reader, sparing employees from having to manually search through the surgical room's trash, for instance.

Because the software displays a picture of each item as it is being read, the system provides a training benefit for new personnel who need to learn what each tool is called, as well as the types of surgeries for which it is used.

While Szczepanski says the system has initially boosted efficiency and reduced the incidence of missing tools, he plans to expand how the technology is used. "In the long term," he states, "we are looking at tracking the instruments' lifespan" by identifying how many times each tool has been used. That functionality is already available in the Safety Scanner software, but is not yet in use by Great Lakes. The system could also be utilized in the event of a problem, he says—such as an autoclave unit malfunctioning and not sterilizing at the proper temperature, for example. In such a scenario, the Surgical Safety Scanner software could help to identify what had recently been through that autoclave, so that workers could re-sterilize those items prior to their use on a patient.

The system costs $3,000 to $5,000 for a small clinic, and up to a million dollars for a large institution. It can also be provided on a pay-per-click model so that organizations only pay based on how often the tags are scanned. By the end of the first quarter of this year, Schoville says, Surgical Scanner intends to offer a dental version of the solution as well, for use in tracking dental tools.

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