California Heart Institute Tracks Supplies with RFID

Published: April 1, 2024

Loma Linda University Health’s International Heart Institute officials call the UHF RFID solution from VueMed “a game changer.”

Hospitals often require tens of thousands of medical products for hundreds of different procedures that serve a wide variety of patients and their unique needs. While these products are essential to patient care, have limited shelf life and are subject to recalls, they are often not tracked inside facilities or even to a specific patient.

This is compounded by the clinical staff having to use a cumbersome and manual system to document items used on a patient. This can lead to errors in medical records and billing, distracting the nurses and doctors from focusing on the patient.

Loma Linda University Health (LLUH), in Loma Linda, CA, has addressed the challenge at its International Heart Institute (IHI) with an automated inventory management system using a UHF RAIN RFID technology solution from VueMed.

With the implementation of the system, IHI reported that it is now able to support a significant increase in complexity and volume of cases without any significant increases in on-hand inventory.

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Implementation at IHI

LLUH is a Seventh Day Adventist, six-hospital system in Southern California. It treats more than 1.5 million outpatients every year and serves as the only Level I trauma center for a region that covers more than 25 percent of the state.

Within LLUH’s system, IHI is a leading regional heart and vascular center and cardiothoracic surgery clinic with nine full-time faculty surgeons treating more than 1,000 patients annually.

In January 2017, VueMed’s VueTrack-RF was first implemented at IHI. It needed a way to gain accurate information about which items are needed for patient care, whether they are in stock, where they are located within the hospital, and whether or not they have expired or been recalled, there is tremendous waste and risks to patients, according to Kathy Ho, VueMed’s director of account management.

The Challenge

First and foremost, LLUH wanted to improve patient safety by ensuring product availability, quick recall management, effective expiration management, and accurate clinical documentation at the point of care.

At the same time, hospital leadership wanted to gain full visibility, control over spending and utilization of supplies in order to reduce unnecessary purchases and waste levels, optimize inventory size and composition and ensure full charge capture.

The challenges IHI faced were typical of healthcare customers, said Ho.

“For example, fewer than 50 percent of cases had their items captured accurately due to manual supply documentation, and more than 50 percent of items on-hand had no traceable correlated purchase history,” she said. “There were no tools available or processes in place to address these issues, and there was a fragmented and uncoordinated approach to dealing with various aspects of supplies management between the clinical department, supply chain, finance, and IT.”

Deploying the Solution

The solution was VueTrack-RF, VueMed’s automated, hands-free data capture RFID technology. It functions with the strategic installation of light, overhead RFID readers—which turns any space or room in the hospital (procedure room, supply room, dock, hallway) into an RFID-controlled area with full visibility of on-hand inventory and its movements, said Ho.

The implementation and adoption of VueTrack-RF was aimed at ensuring accurate identification and tracking of all devices and supplies throughout their life cycle, from point of manufacturing to the point of care in a patient procedure.

The system interfaces with IHI’s clinical documentation and materials management systems to ensure streamlined processes for clinicians and administrators, and full transparency and visibility of data flow, from item purchase to item utilization and billing, said Alex Barinaga, VueMed’s director of implementation services.

The team set up key processes, roles and responsibilities for the system to ensure the implementation and adherence to protocols and best practices to achieve the desired results.

How it Works

With VueTrack-RF, all product movements at IHI—from delivery at the hospital to storage in the supply room to use in a patient procedure to disposal— are recorded and fed into other relevant systems, such as purchasing and clinical documentation.

With the solution, a finalist in the RFID Journal LIVE! 2024 Awards where the winner will be announced at the conference April 11, the hospital is applying RFID tags to consumable medical supplies used in cardiac cath labs, such as stents, structural heart valves, skin grafts, balloons, and specialized catheters.

As the tagged products enter each supply or procedure room, a zonal RFID reader captures the tag’s unique ID which is linked to details about that product. Readers are also installed in hallways to capture tagged items moving from one zone to another.

Data Tells the Story

The data supports the hospital’s inventory and supply chain management, including tracking expirations, providing product reordering, billing, charge capture, clinical documentation at the point of care, recall management, and unused inventory management.

The data is used as well to know the frequency of use (burn rate) for different supplies, to ensure that needed products are in stock, and to reduce the amount of inventory above recommended par levels.

The Impinj Speedway RFID readers with zonal and steerable antennas, continuously and automatically track the movement and location of all tagged supplies. VueMed uses antennas from manufacturers Times-7, Laird and RF Max.

RFID ensures the accurate Unique Device Identification (UDI) data capture of every item coming in and going out of the department, as well as used at the point of care, and tracks their location at every moment.

“All of this is achieved with little or no human intervention,” said Ho.

This UDI data includes full product details such as manufacturer and description, as well as pedigree information, such as lot or serial number and expiration date. The data is reported to the cloud in order to provide real-time visibility and trackability of medical devices and supplies throughout the organization.

Billing Accuracy at 90 Percent

Since the system was deployed, expired items have been maintained at less than 0.5 percent of total inventory value while unused inventory and inventory above recommended par levels have been reduced by more than 60 percent, according to VueMed.

Billing accuracy is now greater than 90 percent. And the UDI data gathered by VueTrack-RF has enabled IHI to gain full visibility of each device from receipt to patient.

“The achievement of full visibility and traceability of all devices using their UDI information has vastly improved patient safety,” said Barinaga.

Recalled products are now traced to patients within seconds, expired devices are never placed in patients, products are guaranteed to be available, and patient medical records are accurate.

“VueMed provides visibility and actionable data, allowing decision-makers to impact inventory (real dollars) sitting on the shelf. It has been a game changer for our cath lab operation and a baseline by which we measure all other inventory systems,” said Josh Lund, LLUH’s chief of supply chain.

Key Takeaways:

  • Loma Linda University Health’s IHI heart and vascular center has achieved more than 90 percent billing accuracy, improved patient safety through automated expiration alerting and inventory management with its RFID deployment.
  • The hospital now tracks its thousands of suppliers as they enter and leave key areas, creating a digital history of each product and when it is used.