How Can I Automate Surgical Supply Restocking Within a Hospital Operating Room?

By RFID Journal

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Ask The ExpertsHow Can I Automate Surgical Supply Restocking Within a Hospital Operating Room?
RFID Journal Staff asked 12 years ago

Have any medical facilities used radio frequency identification to track their supplies? This is what I am trying to accomplish:

1. Monitor all surgical supplies (blades, sponges, catheters and disposables) for the purpose of inventory control.

2. Track the same items for expiration dates and stock rotation. For instance, if I have RFID-tagged sponges, I want to be able to walk into the central core and be alerted that, say, three packs of sponges will expire within one month. I will then be able to go to the bin and rotate those to the front.

3. Eventually, I would like to be able to use the tracking information described in point #1 to order supplies via an automated process. Example: When I walk into the central core, the system will tell me that RFID tags #420, 421, 543 and 564 are missing. Those IDs are associates with particular product codes, so the system can automatically place an order through our preferred vendor.

I seek information about RFID system vendors, low-cost RFID tags, cheap documentation of interference with surgical equipment, and examples of places that have implemented RFID within a health-care materials-management setting.

—Name withheld


Canadian hospital Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos is employing an RFID solution provided by Logi-D to help it manage its medical supplies (see RFID Helps Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos Replenish Consumables). The hospital has not released information regarding the specific benefits that it achieves from using the system; however, according to Logi-D, the technology is expected to reduce activity related to nursing supply replenishment by 50 percent, and inventory levels by 20 percent.

In addition to automating replenishment orders for consumable medical supplies, the system helps the facility ensure that supplies do not expire before use. Since being installed in February 2011, the solution has helped the hospital to track approximately 1,400 items at any given time, according to Jacquelin Labonville, Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos' operating-room head nurse.

I have not seen hospitals automating their ordering, but that doesn't seem like it would present a huge challenge. I know that some medical-device companies are putting RFID cabinets in hospitals in order to manage inventory on consignment.

As far as interference goes, there have been a few studies performed to study this issue. One found potential interference from passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) systems, while another determined this not to be the case (see Does RFID Create Negative Effects in Hospitals?). I have personally spoken to executives at many hospitals that have deployed radio frequency identification. To my knowledge, none have experienced any incidents of RFID systems negatively affecting medical equipment.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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