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RFID Helps FDA Caseworkers Track Important Paperwork

The agency's Office of Regulatory Affairs is using EPC Gen 2 technology to store and retrieve 10,000 investigation files at its San Francisco location, and plans to install the system at 14 other district offices.
By Claire Swedberg
According to Samimi, a stack of files can be carried past the DeskTracker interrogator and captured in this manner. When an employee checks out a file, he uses the interrogator to read the file's RFID tag, and the bar-code reader (connected to the RFID reader) to scan the bar-code number printed on his ID badge. The self-checkout system has been working well, he says, though the variety of ways in which the system could be used (such as the order in which employees scan files and bar codes) has led the ORA to post instructions at the DeskTracker, listing four illustrated steps for checking out files.

The data resides on the ORA's local server, Samimi says, and is maintained by the ORA. FileTrail's software package allows the ORA to bring up records of a particular file's location, and can alert an employee automatically via e-mail if the file has been kept beyond a predetermined time limit.

Samimi says the office intends to begin employing an Intermec handheld RFID interrogator in 2008, to take inventory in the file room or search for a missing folder throughout the remainder of the office. He also intends to install FileTrail ZoneTrackers (fixed RFID readers) throughout each office, deploying them in doorways to capture tag ID numbers as files enter a specific department. This system, he says, would be especially helpful in circumstances such as when a caseworker turns over a file to a supervisor in another department.

While the 14 district offices will implement the same FileTrail RFID tracking technology, how they do so will vary from one location to another. "Some are bigger; some are smaller," Pemberton says. "Some offices will hire us to do rapid transitioning." A few will install the system and attach labels to files themselves, paying employees overtime to complete the work during off hours, or bringing in temporary employees. Others, he says, will take a measured approach, attaching RFID tags on new folders as they come in.

"One of the problems with RFID is it has been treated as a technology that offers its own solution," Pemberton says. However, he notes, successful RFID deployment requires a combination of technologies and practical solutions. The use of color-coded labels, for instance, has been an important step in the deployment, making it easier for file clerks to quickly identify when a file is misplaced.

"One of the challenges we have faced is talking about ROI," Pemberton adds. "The problem of tracking or finding files is difficult to measure and so ubiquitous that many people accept it as a way of life. That makes our challenge very unique, because people don't realize they have a problem."

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