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Wal-Mart, Univ. of Ark., Blue Cross to Create Research Center for Health-Care Logistics

The center's mission will be to study ways RFID and other information technologies can be applied to the health-care industry's procurement and distribution processes.
By Beth Bacheldor
Apr 03, 2007Wal-Mart has teamed up with the University of Arkansas and Blue Cross Blue Shield to create a research center that will study ways in which RFID and other types of information technology can be applicable to the health-care industry's procurement and distribution processes.

As the lead partner, Wal-Mart is pledging $1 million over the next five years to funding the center, which will be called the Center for Innovation in Health Care Logistics. In addition to the funding, Wal-Mart will share its expertise in technology, explains Linda Dillman, the company's executive VP of risk management, benefits and sustainability. The center will be housed at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., with Ron Rardin, a professor at the university, serving as executive director. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois have joined Wal-Mart as partners, and the center will also raise money from other companies, government agencies and foundations to fund research and demonstration projects.

The University of Arkansas and Wal-Mart have a history or working together to study ways to apply technology toward improving supply chains. In June 2005, the university opened the RFID Research Center, as part of the Information Technology Research Center (ITRC) in its Sam M. Walton College of Business. The RFID Research Center was created to provide research designed to support the adoption of RFID technologies (see University Opens RFID Research Center).

According to Bill Hardgrave, executive director of the university's ITRC and director of the RFID Research Center, the Center for Innovation in Health Care Logistics will research how technology can be used to improve logistics within the four walls of a medical facility, as well as the entire supply chain that moves drugs, medical equipment and information to and from medical facilities. "This is a research center really focused at looking at the health-care supply chain," he explains, "and at putting the right materials in the hands of the doctors and nurses, where and when they need them."
The new center will study a variety of information technologies in addition to RFID, to determine how they can each be applied to the health-care supply chain. "The mission is much broader," says Hardgrave, adding that the university's RFID Research Center will work closely and collaborate with the new center.

Hardgrave says that while a lot of great research has already been done involving technology and health care, "there is certainly a lot more to be done. What I'm most excited about, in having this center created, is [that] it provides an opportunity to pull together holistically a lot of the different players—the health-care providers, employers, payers like insurance suppliers and others—and then look at where RFID can help across the board."

The Center for Innovation in Health Care Logistics was announced last week at a health information technology meeting of business, IT and health-care leaders, held in Rogers, Ark., and hosted by Wal-Mart.

Currently, Wal-Mart has several other initiatives underway involving health care. It recently introduced a $4 generic prescription program in all of its U.S. pharmacies, for instance, and the retailer and other companies joined together last December to start Dossia, a Web-based framework through which U.S. employees, dependents and retirees can maintain electronic personal health records.

In February, Wal-Mart joined business, government, labor and public-policy organizations to launch the "Better Health Care Together" campaign, which laid out a set of four common-sense principles for achieving a new American health-care system by 2012.
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