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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
The lab selected Cenbion's proposal in late 2006, and moved forward with a pilot of the system that the company designed, which commenced in early 2007. Cenbion spent years, however, seeking an RFID hardware partner that could help it design a reader and antenna architecture that could provide reliable performance. After partnering with Motorola, Strelow says, Cenbion and Saint Luke's found a system that works, and so the hospital opted to deploy the current solution in early 2011.

When St. Luke's receives an order containing high-value devices, a lab employee uses a bar-code scanner to collect the International Article Number (EAN) code printed on the packaging. The Cenbion software then instructs a Zebra Technologies R110Xi RFID printer to produce a label containing the Alien tag. The software, says Randal York, Cenbion's president, generates a unique identification number that is both printed as a bar code on the label, and also encoded to the tag's memory, thereby overwriting the factory-issued tag number. This unique number contains lot and expiry data, and is associated, in the Cenbion software, with the full EAN printed on the package.

Each labeled device is then placed into inventory. When a particular is needed for a patient, it is moved out of the stockroom to one of the six operating rooms in the CV department. All of these ORs, as well as all three stockrooms, are outfitted with RFID reader antennas, mounted around each room's doorway. As a tagged device moves into or out of one of these rooms, the interrogator for that doorway collects the RFID tag data and transmits it to Microsoft BizTalk software, running on a central server. The BizTalk software manages the readers, and performs such basic data functions as filtering out duplicate reads. BizTalk forwards the tag data to the Cenbion software, which saves each tag read to its database. The tag-read event includes the tag number, along with the time of the event and the location of the interrogator that collected it.

When a device is used, a member of the medical team is supposed to scan the bar code printed on the label, as well as scan the bar-coded ID printed on the patient's wristband, in order to associate the two and ensure that billing is accurate. But sometimes, this step is missed.

"There might be 20 different products used in a procedure," Strelow explains. Nurses are extremely busy during an operation, he notes, and it's thus understandable that they might miss a scan or two. If that happened before the RFID system was deployed, the device would end up missing from inventory, and would never show up again in a patient's billing records. In such a scenario, Strelow says, he had no easy way of knowing what happened to that asset.

St. Luke's cardiovascular department is applying RFID labels to the packaging of stents and other coronary devices.

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