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To Keep Drugs from Expiring, Hospital Tests Intelliguard System

The San Diego facility hopes to save costs by deploying MEPS Real-Time's drug-management system, which uses RFID-enabled drug-dispensing cabinets in conjunction with standard EPC Gen 2 tags.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 12, 2011There are some drugs that hospitals seldom administer, but that are nonetheless vital to have ready. These medications—such as rabies vaccines, blood factors and snakebite antivenom—not only are expensive, but also sometimes have a short shelf life. Consequently, their stock levels must be managed closely and carefully.

To simplify this task, a San Diego hospital is testing an RFID-based drug-management system developed by MEPS Real-Time, an RFID solutions provider based in Carlsbad, Calif. The system, known as Intelliguard, employs standard EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags and readers, including a tabletop reader for commissioning the tag attached to each drug's packaging, as well as RFID-enabled drug-dispensing cabinets and bedside patient trays.

The San Diego hospital's pharmacy uses a tabletop reader to commission the tags that it attaches to the packaging of each drug.
Designed for use within patient rooms, the bedside tray is mounted to a wheeled pedestal and has a built-in video screen and an embedded RFID interrogator to read tags attached to drugs administered to a patient, as well as an RFID tag embedded in that individual's ID wristband, to ensure that the correct medications are being dispensed. (The San Diego facility is not using Intelliguard bedside trays during its pilot.) The system also includes the Intelliguard software platform, enabling the hospital's staff to associate the RFID tag number encoded to the tag attached to each unit of medication with that product's national drug code, expiry date and other information. MEPS Real-Time says the software, developed in-house, is compliant with the Health Level Seven International (HL7) standards, and is based on the .NET platform.

The San Diego hospital launched the pilot in mid-December 2010, and plans to continue running it for approximately four months, in order to evaluate the Intelliguard system, says the hospital's pharmacy director, who has requested that he and his hospital not be named during this phase of the pilot. Currently, the organization is tagging and tracking a total of 40 types of high-value, slow-moving drugs are being tagged and tracked. As the hospital's pharmacy receives these products from suppliers, a staff member attaches an RFID label (MEPS sources its labels from a variety of vendors) to each product, consisting of a single dose. The worker then places each tagged item on the tabletop reader, in order to collect the tag's pre-encoded ID number, and utilizes the Intelliguard software to associate that ID with information regarding that drug.

For now, the hospital is tagging only medicines that can be stored at room temperature. Once tagged and checked in, these drugs are placed into an Intelliguard storage cabinet. Starting next month, the facility plans to install a second cabinet that functions as a refrigerator. At that point, employees will also begin tagging and storing temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals that must be refrigerated. A ThingMagic M6E EPC Gen 2 RFID reader is embedded into each cabinet, which has multiple drawers partitioned for containing drugs. The interrogator is set to scan the inside of the cabinet, in order to perform a daily inventory. What's more, every time one of the cabinet's drawers is opened and subsequently closed, the reader within that unit automatically reads that drawer's contents for the purpose of updating inventory levels.

To ensure that an Intelliguard storage cabinet's built-in interrogator reads only the tags on products stored within it (and not those of drugs that have been removed and are located elsewhere in the room), the cabinet contains RF shielding that restricts the reader's UHF transmissions to the cabinet's interior, and the device operates only when the drawers are closed.

The pilot's objective is to ascertain whether the RFID system could aid the hospital staff in better managing the inventory and administration of these pharmaceuticals—in other words, enable it to know where the drugs are, as well as the amount of each product available in stock at all times—so that it can reduce the quantity of items that are never administered due to having exceeded their expiration date.

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