Smart Labeling Applications for the Health-Care Industry

Let's explore two high-value applications for smart labeling in the health-care industry: authentication and inventory management.
Published: February 20, 2019

The global radio frequency identification (RFID) market for health care is expanding at a double-digit rate—and by 2022, it’s estimated to be worth $4.9 billion, according to Grand View Research. This explosive growth stems back to the value and efficiency RFID promises to bring to health-care organizations and the added level of security and safety it promises to bring to patients.

RFID technology—a broad category encompassing many types of smart labels—has potentially limitless applications for driving accuracy and value for the health-care industry. As hospitals, labs and entire supply chains adopt RFID technologies, they become smarter. They are able to track and trace every blood sample or pallet of medication. They have real-time visibility into inventory. They’re able to monitor the temperature of heat-sensitive drugs throughout the supply chain. In the end, smart labeling provides another layer of visibility, efficiency and, ultimately, patient safety to the health-care industry.

Examining the Value of Smart Labeling in Hospitals
Let’s explore two ways in which RFID labeling can drive value for hospitals, as they represent a great microcosm of the health-care industry as a whole, with diagnostic testing, movement of samples and pharmaceuticals, medication dispensing and patient care all happening under one roof. And each of these ways could benefit the entire health-care industry—every health-care organization, from diagnostics labs to primary care offices to the pharmaceutical supply chain, could benefit from end-to-end traceability, improved productivity and better inventory management.

Authentication of Pharmaceuticals and Samples
Nearly 200,000 patients die in hospitals per year due to medical errors, which could potentially be prevented through more accurate, secure authentication processes. RFID could be the life-saving answer that hospitals are looking for, engineering accuracy into their processes. Smart label technology can be used to track and trace pharmaceuticals and blood samples throughout the hospital to ensure that every patient receives the right diagnosis and the right medication, without fail.

Each RFID tag has a unique identification number, which is assigned to a particular product and input into the hospital’s database—and is far more difficult to duplicate than a bar code. And because some RFID tags can be read as quickly as on 700 products per second, accuracy does not come at the price of productivity.

When all medications are RFID-tagged, a nurse or doctor can quickly read a particular tag, verify the authenticity of the product to which it is attached and determine whether it’s being dispensed to the right patient. Beyond the primary goal of preventing patient harm, secure RFID authentication is also an effective way of fighting the widespread counterfeit drug problem.

Improving Hospital Inventory Management With Smart Cabinets
According to a recent survey, more than three-quarters of hospital personnel still rely on inefficient, manual supply chain management, and many respondents rated their visibility into inventory as low. More than half of all hospital administrators surveyed cited cost management as the key to their organization’s success. Automating inventory tracking with smart labels and smart cabinets not only streamlines in-hospital supply chain management, but also aligns with many hospitals’ administrative goal of saving money.

Here’s how it works: The moment a medication or product is brought into a hospital, it is tagged with an RFID smart label and entered into the hospital’s database. Products are then placed in smart cabinets, which synch with the facility’s inventory-management system. When authorized personnel go to retrieve a product, they can immediately determine in which cabinet and on which shelf that item is located. The reader will let them know whether the item they took is the oldest one available, thereby ensuring that products are used before they can expire. And because smart cabinets keep a real-time inventory count, fewer labor hours are spent manually counting inventory, re-ordering products and managing expired and recalled items.

This small change to inventory management can have huge budgetary ramifications. After implementing RFID tracking, Adventist Health White Memorial in Los Angeles, Calif., reduced its manual inventory counting time by 67 percent and saved an estimated $120,000 per year by using products prior to expiration.

Deploying an RFID Solution for Your Organization
While we’re at the infancy of health-care and pharmaceutical applications for smart labeling, the labeling itself is a mature technology. RFID technology is ready for health-care organizations to plug into their existing processes in order to drive productivity, reliability and savings. But the smart labels themselves are a small part of the overall story. A total RFID solution requires RFID tags, information-processing system, readers and software to work in tandem to achieve your desired goal—whether that’s real-time inventory tracking, a more accurate authentication process or any other objective your organization might have.

If you’re ready to invest in smart labeling technology, reach out to your label manufacturer. They’ll lead the project, coordinating with third-party experts in software, infrastructure and semiconductor manufacturing to deliver a seamless smart labeling solution tailored to your organization’s goals and needs.

Marsha Frydrychowski has more than 15 years of experience working with consumer packaged goods companies in marketing, packaging and branding. She leads marketing efforts for Resource Label Group, a leading full-service label manufacturer with locations throughout the United States and Canada.