Hospitals Look to RFID, RTLS, AI to Improve Operations: Study

Published: July 2, 2024
  • Hospital leaders recognize the criticality of managing inventory in real time and are turning to RFID, RTLS, and AI analytics solutions to improve inventory tracking, visibility, accuracy, and ultimately, patient care.
  • Zebra’s study revealed a link between hospital leaders’ materials management and clinicians’ efficiency, productivity, and ability to provide the best patient care.  

A report from Zebra Technologies found hospital leaders believe integrating automated and digitized inventory tracking systems at patients’ bedsides is a priority for their organizations.

The study, titled Critical Supplies, Critical Outcomes: The Quest for Excellence in Materials Management, found 84 percent of U.S. and UK non-clinical hospital leaders believe they must modernize as hospital asset inventories must be managed precisely to ensure clinicians have the essential supplies, equipment, and medications readily available to provide the best patient care. They see the combined use of RFID and barcode scanners to track and manage inventory significantly helping prevent and reduce medical errors.

The paper comes on the heels of a McKinsey report where nurses expressed the desire to reduce time spent searching for medical assets by half during shifts to increase their ability to focus on patient care.

Digitization of Inventory Management

Rikki Jennings, Vertical Industry Principal Lead, Zebra Technologies, observed there are technologies that hospital staff can rely on when they must be able to identify, track, and capture the location and status of critical resources in real-time.

“That’s why we see rapid investment in location and automation solutions,” said Jennings. “Non-clinical hospital leaders working in new ways with technology behind the scenes can help improve the workflows of front-line clinicians and enhance the patient experience.”

Zebra commissioned Azure Knowledge Corporation to conduct an online survey among 280 non-clinical decision-makers in large hospitals (1,000+ beds) in the two countries. These respondents are responsible for overseeing medical devices, durable medical equipment, implants, consumables, medical supplies pharmaceuticals, or sterile instruments.

Improvements Expected with RFID, RTLS

A substantial nine in 10 hospital leaders agree it’s vital to track inventory in real-time across categories including pharmaceuticals, consumable/medical supplies, sterile instruments, and implants.

Over half of those surveyed believe real-time location systems (RTLS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) will improve inventory management. Nearly seven in 10 hospital leaders indicate they plan to deploy RFID (68 percent) and RTLS (69 percent) solutions within the next five years.

Hospitals leveraging technology and digitization can strengthen hospital workflows, benefiting physicians, nurses, support staff, and patients alike. Eight in 10 hospital leaders believe real-time location tracking is essential to optimal patient care and the combined use of RFID and barcode scanners to track and manage inventory would significantly help prevent and reduce medical errors.

Eyeing AI Solutions

An overwhelming majority of respondents are embracing artificial intelligence (AI)  and analytics, believing AI analytics solutions can help forecast inventory needs using historical data to help make more informed and accurate decisions. Hospital leaders are expanding their implementation of AI solutions: three in 10 say they currently deploy AI, and six in 10 say they expect to deploy it over the next five years.

The reason? Eight in 10 say AI would improve inventory accuracy and visibility in their organizations, including seeing predictive analytics (73 percent) and prescriptive analytics (65 percent) improving inventory management.

Additionally, 78 percent of administrators are prioritizing using data and analytics to improve materials management. And while only 14 percent are currently using advanced analytics and demand forecasting to predict inventory needs, 82 percent expect to deploy it within the next one to five years.

The Reason for New Solution

Administrators are turning to these products for solutions as they believe technology and digital solutions can help reduce inventory and reporting issues by providing enhanced tracking, visibility, and forecasting capabilities. To that end, 76 percent agrees their organizations need to improve systems for clinicians to report problems relating to out-of-stock, low-stock, or lost inventory, equipment, or supplies to improve patient safety.

The Zebra survey found that just under 75 percent acknowledge procedures or surgeries were canceled due to out-of-stock, low-stock, or lost supplies is a significant problem for their organizations.

Additionally, 77 percent agreed with the statement that their clinical staff spend too much time searching for medical equipment, materials, or supplies when needed with 75 percent adding it’s a challenge to recover all recalled or expired items.

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