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Diversion Detection and Prevention in Hospitals

RFID can prevent health-care personnel from covertly accessing opioids—which could, in turn, stop them from becoming addicted.
By Gordon Krass
Jul 21, 2019

Drug diversion in operating rooms is an alarming issue. Nearly one in 10 hospital-based doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists is addicted to controlled substances, and more than 18.5 million medications were lost in 2018 due to drug diversion (see First Half of 2018 Sees 18.7M Pills and $164M Lost Due to Drug Diversion). According to a recent study, almost one third of these events occur at hospitals and medical centers. What's worse is that these facilities rely largely on manual paper-based tracking tools to monitor the use and disposal of their controlled substances. These outdated methods leave room for myriad failure points in the chain of custody of drugs.

One must ask why drug diversion is such a growing problem when we have cutting-edge technology at our disposal, like RFID-enabled drug inventory systems that can precisely track and trace medications throughout the supply chain to ensure they never fall out of the chain of custody. More than two-thirds of procedural areas (operating rooms, outpatient clinics and so forth) have manual, antiquated and ineffective tracking processes in place. These failing procedures typically track narcotics in groups, not at an item level. This makes investigations difficult when diversion does occur, and it can cause problems for hospitals when they report to regulatory bodies that oversee controlled substance use and disposal.

The reality is that until recently, there haven't been any technologies available to deter diversion events. What exists now are tools that mitigate diversion once it has already happened—and by that time, it's too late. The drugs are already in the wrong hands, and the damage has been done.

Diverters in hospitals are smart people, and they will find clever ways to divert drugs. What are needed are better detection, prevention and deterrent methods, in order to make diversion extremely difficult to pull off. Unfortunately, almost one-third of hospitals throughout the United States that aren't using manual, paper-based systems rely on ineffective diversion tools driven by decades-old barcode technology, which was designed for grocery stores, not procedural areas in hospitals.

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