Brazilian Hospital Tracks 158,000 Linens with RFID

Published: April 3, 2024

The SmartxHub solution saved the hospital $300,000 last year, with RFID tags on each piece of linen used for patient care to ensure inventory is always available when needed.

Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein is using RFID technology to digitally manage thousands of linens–from sheets to towels and pillow cases used by its patients–while saving thousands of dollars at the same time.

The solution enables the healthcare provider to track when the linens are used, laundered, and returned to cabinets to ensure adequate stock and efficient replenishment. And the hospital is doing it in a fraction of the time required with the manual system, saving approximately $300,000 yearly.

With the technology, each item of bedding is uniquely identified and data about its use is managed in the hospital’s software platform known as Smartxhub, provided by technology company IDvida IoT.

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Tracking Linens Across a Complex Supply Chain

Einstein Hospital, located in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is an 800-bed healthcare facility, covering 273,000 square meters across several city blocks. To help serve the thousands of patients that are treated at the busy hospital, 150 linen cabinets are replenished four times a day. Among the 158,000 linen items there are about 35 categories of sizes and models, said Rafael Vitolo, the hospital’s RFID project leader.

Each storage area or cabinet has a minimum stock requirement. During morning shifts, the quantity of bed sheets and pillowcases is higher, while another minimum level is set for evenings.

Due to the size of the hospital complex and the continuously expanding number of storage areas, the hospital staff previously had to travel from one site to another, several times a day, to manually check the stock levels in a time-consuming process.

Additionally, all laundry is washed at an external and outsourced laundry facility about 50 kilometers away from the hospital, making the entire linens supply chain that much more complex.

The company looked to RFID technology to improve the logistical flow of linens as they go to from patient to cleaning, and back to storage for reuse. They began using the technology in the second half of 2022 and spent about five months analyzing the results, determining the expected return on investment.

The Solution – How it Works

Linen and bedding suppliers are tagging goods that go to the hospital with passive UHF RFID tags. The tag is encoded with a unique ID that is linked to that item in the SmartxHub software.

“Whenever we purchase a new item of bedding, we provide our RFID tags for the manufacturers to apply to the material and deliver it to us, ready for use,” explained Renata Santos, the hospital’s linen coordinator.

Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein is a finalist in RFID journal live awards for best supply chain or logistics implementation.

When clean linens come —laundered and folded-to the hospital from the external laundry site—they pass through an RFID portal reader that captures all tags as they enter. The software provides data related to which cabinets require replenishing, and what stock is available on-hand at that receiving “laundry room.”

The linens are then routed to the necessary cabinets based on the supply counts provided by the software. As the cabinet it replenished, staff members read all tags there with a handheld reader. Users can view a display of the replenishment counting results.

A Combination of Handheld Readers, RFID Cabinets

After the linens are used and routed back to the laundry room, they pass out the door through the RFID portal again to update their status, as they go to the external laundry service.

Hospital team members can access the supply data and then assemble replenishment cards (written orders) based on what was detected at each cabinet.

“For each new replenishment, we need to scan the location with the RFID reader so that the system can generate the replenishment requirement based on the minimum stock information that should be available at the location,” said Vitolo.

The hospital staff employs 12 TSL portable RFID readers, each with a Bluetooth link to a smartphone. The hospital has deployed two Datamars RFID cabinets with Impinj readers for real-time data at the busiest sites. When items are removed from the cabinet, the inventory count is automatically updated.

The SmartxHub data includes not only middleware for interpreting RFID tag readings, but a Smart Hub App and Smart Hub Web so that users can view the data online or on their phone.

Slashing Labor Costs

Since the system went live, the hospital has measured a reduction in inventory counting time to 10 hours from 72 in each full-inventory count, conducted every two months. On average, the hospital was able to reduce the workday by 30 minutes for each linen supply worker in the replenishment process. By reducing labor hours by about 6,000 hours per year, the hospital expects to see a financial gain of $29,000 annually, based solely on labor cost cuts.

The system also allows the hospital to identify cases in which items are damaged, misused or require replacement.

Since the technology went live, the rate of loss linen went to 0.8 percent from 4 percent of the total volume with inventory accuracy rising as well, said Vitolo. Another benefit: water consumption at the external laundry plant was reduced by 12 percent and electricity use by 139,000 kilowatts per year.

Due to all these benefits, the hospital realized a financial gain of about $300,000 in 2023, Vitolo reported.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sao Paulo Brazil’s Einstein Hospital has cut linen inventory labor six-fold, by tracking all 158,000 bedding items used in patient care with an RFID solution.
  • The technology has helped the hospital reduce the rate of loss, as well as increase inventory accuracy.