Implanet Tracks Implantables

By Claire Swedberg

The French maker of prosthetic implants, as well as the hospitals it serves, has been using its Beep N Track system to track product shipment and usage. The company is now marketing the system to other medical device manufacturers.


Implanet, a French manufacturer of implantable medical devices, has begun marketing an RFID-based system that it says will help it track the location of its products after they are manufactured and shipped to hospitals, while hospital employees can utilize the system for inventory management, billing, and product recalls and expirations.

Implanet designed the solution and deployed it at its own facilities in April 2008, employing IBM‘s WebSphere Sensor Events and Infosphere Traceability Server (IST) software and integration services. The system is now being used by approximately 35 French hospitals, as well as by Implanet itself, at its assembly plant. Known as Beep N Track, the system enables the company and hospitals to share data regarding the location of unused implantable devices, as well as when specific items were used, when product inventories need to be replenished, and when hospitals need to be billed. This fall, Implanet is marketing the technology to other medical device manufacturers.

Emmanuel Grenier, Implanet’s VP of IT

Implanet makes implantable joints used worldwide for hip and knee replacement surgeries. Typically, the items are shipped to hospitals, where they wait in storage until being implanted in patients. At the time of implantation, the device’s lot number is manually recorded, and the hospital informs Implanet that the device has been used, at which time Implanet bills the hospital for it.

There are multiple shortcomings in this manual system, however. It’s difficult for hospitals to know an item has arrived at its facility, for instance, and if a staff member is unable to locate a device in central storage, she often concludes it has not been ordered or received, and thus places an order for a replacement. The billing process is time-consuming, and for Implanet, mistakes in shipping can be made so that hospitals do not receive all of the products they ordered.

Implanet initially began seeking a solution solely for inventory management, says Emmanuel Grenier, the company’s IT vice president. “We decided we wanted to use RFID technology for traceability,” he says, both for the company itself and for the hospitals that use its products. Once the system was designed to track the product’s locations, says Paul Chang, IBM’s worldwide lead of business strategy for emerging technologies, Implanet built on other capabilities beyond inventory tracking, such as automated billing and reordering, alerts in the event of an expired or recalled product, and the ability for surgeons to access a central server to search data regarding the devices they have implanted, and the patients who received them.

To implement the system, Grenier says, Implanet chose Tagsys‘ 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) passive tags that comply with the ISO 15693 standard, for several reasons. The company wanted a passive tag with a short read range, thereby ensuring the tags did not interfere with other transmissions in hospitals. It preferred RFID tags to bar-coded labels, he adds, because the tags can easily be scanned as they pass through an RFID portal on their way to a hospital, thereby helping Implanet ensure the correct order is being sent to the proper location.

Implanet attaches a tag to the packaging of each implantable device after it is manufactured. Its staff input data regarding the device, such as its lot number, description and expiration date, into its SAP system, then scan the tag with a reader the company designed itself—using hardware from French RFID firm Tageos—linking that unique RFID number with the product.

When the products are to be shipped, Implanet’s workers print out an order form, attach an RFID tag to the paperwork and scan the tag, which is then linked to the order itself. An employee picks the items indicated by the paperwork, packing them in a box that then passes through a tunnel RFID reader that captures the ID number encoded to the document’s tag, as well as the tags attached to the packaging of the items packed in that box. The software then compares the ID numbers of products being shipped with a list of the products actually ordered, and confirms that a box has been properly packed and has clearance to be shipped.

When a hospital receives the shipment, its staff uses a MobiPad M3+ handheld PDA and RFID reader, provided by French RFID technology firm Maintag, with built-in Implanet software, to read the ID number of each item as it is unpacked. The PDA can then be plugged into the hospital’s local area network (LAN), in order to upload data about that item. The hospital can send information to Implanet’s back-end server via the Internet, alerting the company that the item has been received. The PDAs do not transmit via a Wi-Fi connection, Grenier says, because Implanet wanted to ensure the system would not interfere with other hospital transmissions, and that the PDA data would be secure.

When a surgeon uses the item on a patient, a hospital staff member scans the ID number on the packaging, then inputs such data as the surgeon’s name, as well as the patient’s name, age, gender and health details. Personnel can then upload the data to the Implanet server. If another implantable product needs to be ordered, the system asks the user to press a prompt in order to request a replacement. Billing is also conducted at this time, once the device has been implanted, with Implanet utilizing the data from the transmission to create its invoice.

This summer, the company began developing a version of the Beep N Track system to sell to other medical device manufacturers. According to Grenier, two device manufacturers have currently signed a contract to begin employing the solution in 2010. He expects the companies, as well as his own, to eventually begin providing the RFID capabilities outside of France—to hospitals in Germany, the United States and eventually globally.

Since the system went live for Implanet in April 2008, there have been no packing errors, Grenier reports. What’s more, he says, it reduces time wasted by hospital employees who might otherwise input data by hand, or order parts that need not be replenished.