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Integris' Journey to RFID

Having already dipped its toes into the RFID waters, Oklahoma's largest health-care provider is eager to dive in deeper.
By Jennifer Zaino
Jun 09, 2008—Hernias are painful—and not just for patients. With more than 750,000 hernia operations performed annually in the United States, hospitals must stock a large number of hernia mesh patches in various models, sizes and styles. In most facilities, the inventory and expiration dates of these implants are tracked manually, which can result in costly errors and lost revenue.

Nurses often pull multiple hernia meshes from a surgical cart to ensure that a doctor has the correct size on hand in the operating room (OR). It's common for busy nurses to forget to return unused patches to the cart after a procedure's completion. Equally problematic, hospitals lack visibility into the expiration dates of such products, so they may not discover a product is no longer viable until it's too late to return it to the manufacturer for credit. What's more, due to glitches in how data about hernia meshes is manually entered into an OR log, patients may not be charged for items used during their surgeries, or they could be charged for a different item.

In 2007, Integris launched a four-month pilot to track hernia meshes at its Southwest Medical Center acute care facility in Oklahoma City.

At Integris Health, the largest health-care provider in Oklahoma, Jerome R. Gardner, VP of special projects and consulting services, saw an opportunity to employ RFID technology to revamp how the organization tracks hernia meshes, thereby reducing the likelihood of expired and missing products, and bringing a hard-dollar return on investment.

But Gardner's vision extended beyond tracking hernia meshes. If the pilot were successful, he believed it could become the lynchpin to an enterprise-wide RFID deployment at the provider's network of 13 health-care facilities. "What I am talking about is more of an enterprise, global approach," Gardner says. "You tag the caregivers, the patients and then all they touch or consume along their stay, and anything or anyone that comes in contact with them."

But first, Gardner says, Integris had to dip its toes in the RFID waters, and make sure the technology worked and delivered a return on investment. To that end, Integris launched a four-month pilot in 2007 to track hernia meshes at its Southwest Medical Center acute care facility in Oklahoma City.

The pilot, Gardner says, proved the technology works and delivers an ROI—to the tune of nearly $1 million when he extrapolates the savings realized from tracking hernia meshes to include all products utilized in the Southwest Medical Center's OR. That hard-dollar ROI, Gardner notes, could easily approach $7 million were the model extended to include its three metro facilities.

And yet, Integris has no immediate plans to go live with the deployment at Southwest, or at any of its other facilities. That's in stark contrast to most hospitals, which typically deploy RFID technology once it has proven its value. Gardner acknowledges this fact, but says there's a good reason for it: He's planning for the long-term. In fact, he thinks it may be near-sighted to take a quick-hit approach—at least for an organization that plans to deploy RFID on a broad scale, as Integris does.

Going forward, Gardner says he has management's support. This was important, he explains, to prove RFID's value. "We had to show management RFID works and it's cost-effective," Gardner says. "Rather than roll it up into just the OR [with the mesh pilot], we are frog-leaping the process throughout the enterprise."
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