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Czech Hospital Using HF RFID to Track Chemotherapy Drugs

The Masaryk Oncological Institute hopes to reduce the likelihood of theft and human error, since the drugs are expensive and can cause severe harm if administered incorrectly.
By Rhea Wessel
Jun 11, 2007A Czech hospital is using radio frequency identification to track vials of expensive chemotherapy medication, in an effort to better manage the potentially dangerous process of mixing the medication with infusion solution in IV bags, as well as to ensure better treatment and increased safety for cancer patients. The medication can be harmful if inhaled, or if it comes into contact with skin.

As part of a research project, the Masaryk Oncological Institute, operated by Masaryk University's School of Medicine in Brno, implemented an RFID solution with help from IBM Global Technology Services and funding from the Czech Ministry for Education.

IBM and the hospital tagged vials with Tagsys Nano-Size RFID tags.
The project—a series of RFID applications for the oncology hospital—began in November 2006 and will run until 2009. The goal is to use RFID to identify patients and personnel, simplify and speed up the inventorying of high-cost medical supplies and deter theft.

The hospital started the project because it wanted to prove RFID could deliver economic and safety benefits, while also gaining experience with the technology. It chose to tag oncology drugs because they are among the most expensive used in the institute, and because the potential impact of human error is high: The cytostatic agents used in the medicine to inhibit the growth of malignant tumors could prove severely harmful if administered to the wrong person or in the wrong dosage.

Matej Adam, from IBM's European health-care solutions practice, was involved in the project and says individual vials of the medicine were not tracked before the RFID application was implemented. Only cartons of the drug were tracked manually, he notes, by means of pen, paper and bar codes.

Staff members wear protective suits and masks, with hands inserted through airtight openings in an apparatus called an isolator.

In the first step of the process, the hospital's in-house pharmacists attach an 8-millimeter-wide circular, passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag to the base of each vial (or ampoule) of cytostatic drugs, stored in a cardboard carton holding up to 20 vials. After testing ordinary self-adhesive tags, IBM and the hospital decided to tag vials with Tagsys' Nano-Size RFID tags, which use the Icode protocol. While tagging each vial, the pharmacist reads the tag with an interrogator and links the type and amount of drug in each vial to the tag's unique ID number.

The bar-coded carton is taken to another part of the institute by a hospital worker. Before RFID was implemented, this was the last point at which the bar code could be used to track the ampoules. Once the box was opened and a vial was removed, the bar code was rendered useless and the pharmacy could not positively identify which vials belonged to which cartons. Individual tracking of ampoules is important because they are typically used to prepare several treatments.

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