Staff Spread Too Thin? RFID Can Help

Hospitals, factories, retail stores and other businesses are reducing labor forces in order to lower costs, leaving employees overstretched. RFID systems can automate routine tasks, so that workers can be more efficient.
Published: December 20, 2010

On June 18, The New York Times published an interesting article by Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse who argued that the U.S. Congress should enact minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in order to ensure patient safety (see Is There a Nurse in the House?).

“Each patient has a specific nurse assigned to watch over him, and it is that nurse’s responsibility to react immediately in the event of an emergency,” Brown wrote. “That’s getting harder to do, though. Cost-cutting at hospitals often means fewer nurses, so the number of patients each nurse must care for increases, leading to countless unnecessary deaths. Unless Congress mandates a federal standard for nurse-patient ratios, those deaths will continue.”

I’m not a medical expert, so I can’t comment on the validity of her claim. But if nursing staffs are being cut to save money, then the very least hospitals can do is deploy technology that can help the remaining nurses become more efficient. At our recent RFID in Health Care West event, speakers from various hospitals reported that nurses can spend up to 20 percent of their time searching for equipment—and that an RFID real-time locating system (RTLS) can reduce that time by 90 percent, enabling nurses to spend more time with their patients.

It’s not just hospitals that can employ radio frequency identification to reduce costs, though. Factories can reduce the amount of time workers spend receiving parts into inventory by 85 percent. And employees can utilize the technology to automatically track subassemblies and other work-in-process, as well as locate finished goods in inventory. That means companies can do more with less.

We’ve written about law offices and government agencies that have greatly reduced the amount of time workers spend searching for legal documents and case files. We’ve explained how banks have reduced the time required to count IT assets for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. And we’ve covered pharmaceutical companies that use RFID to eliminate the need for manual checks of drug temperatures.

Obviously, each organization must examine the cost of deploying RFID and determine whether the potential labor savings make the investment worthwhile. But I don’t understand why, given the current economic conditions, more companies aren’t aggressively exploring RFID and other labor-saving technologies.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor’s Note archive.