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Health-Care Labs Get Healthier

Targeted solutions for monitoring specimens and tracking assets, and innovative research, promise to make RFID a standard tool in laboratories.
By Jennifer Zaino
Oct 28, 2016

The quality of any health-care laboratory—whether it's servicing the biomedical, clinical trial and research, diagnostic or pharmaceutical community—depends on its ability to provide accurate, precise and timely results. In recent years, some labs have begun using RFID to automate manual processes to track human specimens and other samples, preventing loss and misidentification, assuring chain of custody, enabling quick retrieval when needed and facilitating compliance with government regulations.

In 2011, for example, the Mayo Clinic's department of laboratory medicine and pathology worked with software provider ODIN (now Quake Global) to develop EasySpecimen, a passive RFID system to track patient tissue samples. In 2013, the Legacy Health Good Samaritan Medical Center, in Portland, Ore., collaborated with Cerner to deploy an RFID solution to track patient tissue specimens from the point of collection in the endoscopy department to receipt at the pathology lab. Prior to using RFID, endoscopy nurses had to manually create and double-label specimen containers, and pathology lab workers had to verify the containers against paperwork before entering their receipts into the Cerner Laboratory Information System (LIS). The RFID solution integrates Quake Global's pad readers, ceiling readers and Tag Acquisition Processor (TAP) server with the Cerner LIS.

Photo: MSM Solutions
"Now, nurses provide specimen source information to the hospital's electronic medical records system, submit the order to the EMR and print an RFID label," says Dani Sensenig, pathology supervisor for Legacy Laboratory Services. Zebra Technologies' tags and printers are used in the process. It's best practice to print the label at the point of blood collection or specimen removal, says Chris Sullivan, Zebra's global health-care practice leader. "If you have the label applied instantaneously to the blood collection or specimen, you significantly reduce the risk of errors versus doing that as a separate work stream."

Then, nurses place the specimen container on an RFID pad in the endoscopy suite, and the reader sends a signal to the LIS that the specimen is ready for pickup. Antennas in the hallway outside the suite and outside the pathology department track the movement of the sample, which is read on another RFID pad when it arrives at the lab. "In health care, this workflow is a game changer," says Sam Bhatia, Cerner's director of laboratory automation.

"It's absolutely beneficial to the lab because specimens are the bread and butter of what we do," Sensenig says. "The quality of specimen identification, the labeling of containers and tracking transportation is all part of the process," says Andrea Stacy, Legacy Health's manager of system pathology and cytology labs. "If pathology expects to receive a specimen that doesn't show up, we can actually track if it left the endoscopy department or if it came into our lab." Today, Stacy notes, the pathology lab RFID-tracks between 1,200 and 1,500 endoscopy specimens annually, with a 100 percent read rate.

The Cerner RFID Anatomical Pathology tracking solution is generating a lot of interest at Good Samaritan Medical Center. "Other departments that produce pathology specimens have reached out to learn more about the work," Stacy says. "And there's potential to leverage RFID to track the samples through the lab's internal processes," adds Bryan Desimone, a Legacy Health senior system analyst who supports the pathology lab. "We're starting small and hoping to grow."

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