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Saint Luke's Hospital of Kansas City Saves Thousands With RFID

EPC tags and readers enable the facility's cardiovascular department to reduce inventory, improve billing and earn big discounts.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 24, 2011Earlier this year, the cardiovascular (CV) laboratory at Saint Luke's Hospital of Kansas City deployed passive EPC RFID tags and readers that have enabled the hospital to better manage its stock of pacemakers, coronary stents and defibrillators. Through improved tracking and control over these items, the facility has managed to reduce the size of its coronary device inventory by half a million dollars, while also more accurately associating each piece of equipment with the particular patient on whom it is used, thereby reducing costs associated with patient billing. The RFID system has also helped St. Luke's to save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, by enabling the CV to buy more items in bulk, thereby earning bigger discounts.

Previously, the lab depended on nurses, doctors and other medical staff members to help the material-management department accurately track the use of each device, by manually scanning the bar code attached to its packaging, and then scanning the bar code printed on the wristband of the patient for whom that item is used. This still occurs, but RFID readers now capture the ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 inlay embedded in the bar code label as the device moves from inventory stock to the operating room and, ultimately, when the packaging is disposed of. In this way, says David Strelow, the hospital's director of CV lab services, St. Luke's has deployed a product-tracking system not unlike that deployed by Wal-mart Stores.

In June 2006, the hospital issued a request for a proposal (RFP) for an RFID system that would enable Strelow and his staff to more accurately manage the inventory of roughly 1,500 different high-value devices located in the CV lab. The request was for passive RFID tags that would allow such items to be tracked with minimal changes to the lab's existing workflow.

"We looked at HF [high-frequency] tags, but we preferred the usability of UHF," Strelow states. "We didn't want staff to have to hold tagged items directly up to reader antennas," he explains; therefore, the hospital required a tag with a longer read range.

Cenbion Medical, which provided the inventory-management software that the lab was already utilizing to track its inventory solely through bar-code technology, responded to the RFP with a solution based on EPC Gen 2 RFID tags from Alien Technology—the Squiggle inlay, with a Higgs 3 chip embedded in a thermal transfer label—and FX7400 fixed readers with AN480 antennas, both manufactured by Motorola Solutions.

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