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Mississippi Blood Services Banks on RFID

The not-for-profit organization tested an RFID system to manage and track blood, improve safety, make deliveries more timely and lower costs.
By Samuel Greengard
Aug 07, 2006For Mississippi Blood Services (MBS), few tasks pose as great a challenge as tracking inventory. The not-for-profit organization collects in excess of 60,000 units of blood annually from more than 35,000 donors. At any given moment, MBS can have upwards of 2,500 units of blood products on hand, and must be ready to ship specific blood types and products—including plasma, platelets and red cells—to hospitals around the state. Blood products typically last from 5 to 42 days; frozen plasma can last more than a year.

Sometimes some blood products expire while certain locations experience shortages. "Accuracy in blood transfusion is a life-and-death issue," says Gulam Patel, manager of information services for the Jackson-based organization. "The slightest error can have huge consequences."

Managing the inventory of blood products—MBS supplies blood to 50 hospitals and medical facilities throughout Mississippi—is a complex logistical process. For years, MBS has used bar codes and scanners to help automate processes and improve record keeping. Yet, in an era of growing cost pressures and increased demand for blood, the 25-year-old organization has recognized that radio frequency identification can help it save dollars and lives.

To that end, MBS recently completed an RFID pilot that tracked 1,000 bags of blood within a storage unit. Its plan over the next few years is to integrate the RFID system with its existing inventory management software, deploying the technology across the entire organization.

The RFID system will provide real-time information about the location of blood, allow the organization to anticipate shortages and distribution problems better and help improve the efficiency of the overall inventory process. "We spend a lot of time conducting monthly and quarterly inventories," Patel says. "RFID will take things to the next level, and will provide benefits for everyone, including the hospitals obtaining blood and the patients receiving transfusions. Anything we can do to move the blood faster and more accurately is a step forward."

Patel first conceived the idea of migrating to RFID came about three years ago, while reading a newspaper article about the technology. Although there was no proven RFID system to handle bags of blood, Patel says, it was clear RFID could improve the processes MBS uses to monitor trays of blood (each of which holds up to 30 bags) and find a specific package.

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