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RFID Rescues Emergency Transportation Service

Since deploying the technology, Action Ambulance has greatly reduced the time it takes to inspect vehicles and has also improved inventory management, lowering costs and enabling the company to provide better community care.
By Bob Violino
Apr 12, 2010—Sometimes, it pays to ignore the experts and implement a solution when your intuition tells you it can help transform your business. That's what happened at Action Ambulance Service when it came to deploying a radio frequency identification system. The company's CEO, Mike Woronka, sought a way to track assets, improve inventory management and facilitate regulatory compliance, but was told by a number of RFID vendors that the technology was not a good fit, and that it would not pay off for the business.

Action Ambulance, based in Wilmington, Mass., provides 24-hour emergency and non-emergency pre-hospital medical care and transportation services, available to more than a million residents of Boston's northern suburbs. The company's service area encompasses more than 130 square miles, and Action responds to more than 35,000 calls annually from 12 business locations.

At every shift change, when a new ambulance crew comes on duty, workers must perform a full inventory check, which is mandated by public-health regulations.

Each of the firm's 33 ambulances carries roughly 50 medications that have expiration dates, as well as approximately 800 medical-related items with strict maintenance requirements, such as cardiac monitors, IV pumps, stretchers, wheelchairs and other equipment. Action Ambulance is required by federal, state and local public-health regulations to keep the medications up to date and the equipment in good working condition.

At every shift change, when a new ambulance crew comes on duty, the workers must perform a full inventory check, which is mandated by public-health regulations. The manual inspection, which generally takes one to two hours per shift, involves creating a detailed documentation trail, such as when medications and medical supplies on trucks are scheduled to expire, as well as whether electrodes, IV catheters, blood tubes and other equipment are due for maintenance.

"The public health department's compliance process has been, and is becoming, [even] more cumbersome," Woronka says. "We have never been able to effectively handle the inventory-control issue. Shift change and vehicle check-outs are taking longer."

The company began bringing crews in earlier, Woronka says, to complete the checks and get the ambulances back on the road as early as possible. But that was only a stopgap solution, he notes. Action Ambulance wanted to find a way to reduce its inventory-tracking times and labor-related costs, while remaining compliant with regulations. The firm also wanted to get a better handle on its overall inventory-management process, including ensuring it had essential supplies on hand when needed.
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