Hospitals Leverage RFID Management Solution from Drug Wholesaler

Published: February 12, 2024

AmerisourceBergen(Cencora) offers its Medication Tray solution by tagging products before shipping to customers, and providing RFID-based management of data for inventory and safety.

AmerisourceBergen (AB) is offering an RFID tagging service and RFID-enabled Medication Tray solution for the customers that buy its medications.

The solution—consisting of software as well as UHF RFID tags attached to its products—is aimed at making RFID technology adoption by hospital pharmacies easier and more effective.

The answer overcomes two barriers AB, a U.S.-based wholesale drug company soon to become Cencora, identified for RFID technology adoption. It eliminates the need for pharmacies to apply their own UHF RFID tags as medications arrive from the supplier, and offers a standardized RFID tag reading solution that works with any reader, thereby making deployments more universally operable.

Inventory Management of Crash Carts

The Medication Tray solution includes both RFID inventory management technology as well as the pre-tagging services.

One of AB’s early customers for the Medication Tray program is Christus Health, which has launched the technology in its pharmacy departments. Christus Health is an international, not-for-profit health system made up of more than 600 community hospitals, urgent care centers and physician clinics. It employs nearly 50,000 associates and over 15,000 physicians.

RFID Journal Live

Christus is using the technology to support inventory management of crash cart and operating room medication inventory. For the Texas-based nonprofit health system, the technology addresses a universal shortage in staff members while providing automated inventory data.

Reducing Labor in Hospital Pharmacies

While the healthcare company had used RFID previously, the technology demanded time consuming labor.

“Our previous RFID technology required [the company’s] pharmacy resources to manually tag each of the items used in the process, which eliminated a lot of the benefit achieved through the RFID efficiencies gained on the tray replenishment process,” said Justin Simon, Christus’s pharmacy system director.

“Since the pandemic, hiring and retaining pharmacy technicians has been a significant challenge facing health systems across the nation,” Simon said.

In fact, a 2023 survey by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacy found that 89 percent of pharmacists are now asked to take on responsibilities usually performed by technicians. Hiring third party re-packagers to provide RFID tagging and offset the pharmacy labor was too costly as well as complex and slow, requiring pharmacies to keep higher inventory on hand.

So Christus’s officials opted for AB’s Medication Tray Solution to eliminate some of the manual processes maximizing the impact of their limited pharmacy technician resources, Simon explained.

How it Works

Once a healthcare provider orders a medication to be RFID-tagged from AB’s e-commerce site, it is routed to a special RFID-tagging distribution center where the untagged product is picked and invoiced.

“By waiting to tag until the order is placed, we are able to avoid managing separate inventory. This agility is important to ensuring supply availability,” explained Beth Riggio, Cencora’s global products and solutions VP.

Once AB has applied RFID tags post-sale at the unit level, the products are shipped to customers nationwide within two or three days from the order.

As a final step, AB openly discloses the tag-decoding information to technology providers, Riggio said, so that RFID-enabled product can be read by any interested vendor.

Tracking Medications in the Hospital

Hospitals can use third-party readers to capture tag reads as the products are received, stocked on crash carts destined for patients, or returned from crash carts that move throughout the hospital. In that way, pharmacies gain an automated view into the product’s details, its expiration date and when it was administered to a patient.

Additionally, AB is aiming to bolster RFID adoption in the healthcare industry.

“We set the stage for broader technology adoption. All our RFID-enabled solutions can recognize any tag conforming to the RAIN standard, regardless of vendor,” Riggio explained, which, she added, ensures a seamless and accurate process for health systems to encourage collaboration and innovation.

Focusing on Patients

“We ultimately want to keep [pharmacists and healthcare] providers focused on patient care, not updating inventory counts,” said Riggio. Through more universal deployment of RFID, she said, “healthcare providers can operate at the top of their license, which ultimately benefits the patients they serve.”

The growth of RFID in healthcare also creates opportunities to further improve patient safety. For example, RFID readers in patient rooms could proactively alert users about potential medication errors, creating an opportunity to intervene before a drug is administered.

Those same RFID readers could support billing accuracy, which traditionally relies on barcode scanning practices.

Alerting and Dashboard

The solution can provide proactive inventory management alerts for pharmacy staff related to pending medication expirations, which are intended to minimize the risk of citation during an audit or dispensing of an expired medication to a patient.

The system also is designed to enable continuous inventory monitoring across multiple sites, through a cloud-based, centralized dashboard.​ It can help users reclaim recalled product as well as move long-dated inventory to areas where product doesn’t move as quickly and the short-dated product to where it does, helping minimize waste.​​

“To address the shortcomings of existing RFID solutions, AB has leveraged its unique position as both a wholesaler and RFID technology provider to create a transformative solution,” said Riggio.

AB’s RFID reading solution first launched as a proprietary product co-developed with SimplyRFID, while the rest of the platform and solution has been developed by AB engineering resources. The AB team continues to manage all updates and enhancements to the solution, Riggio said.

Benefits for Christus Health

Ultimately, by leveraging AB’s solution to eliminate manual RFID tagging, Christus Health has expanded its use of the inventory management from nine to 22 hospitals.

“By partnering with AB, our tray replenishment processes are now more standardized and automated, creating a safer process for our patients,” Simon said.

Standardizing the Medication Tray solution across their health system minimized the risk of error related to variations in medication management. Automating previously manual processes across multiple locations has driven increased accuracy and efficiency, reduced the cost and risk of expired medications and freed up valuable pharmacy resources for higher value activities, Riggio said.

Overall, AB found the use of its technology can help alleviate labor shortages since less time is needed for manually counting kit and tray inventory—to less than three minutes from the half hour it previously needed.

Key Takeaways:
  • Christus Healthcare is among early adopters of AB’s RFID enabled Medication Tray solution.
  • The system consists of RFID tagged medications that AB as drug wholesaler provides, as well as readers and data management for inventory tracking and patient safety.