RFID Helps Hôtel-Dieu d’Amos Replenish Consumables

By Claire Swedberg

The Quebec hospital is using a system with passive HF RFID tags linked to specific medical supplies to request replenishment of those items.

Canadian hospital Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos reports that it is employing an RFID-enabled solution provided by Logi-D to help it manage its medical supplies. 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 been helping the hospital track approximately 1,400 items at any given time, according to Jacquelin Labonville, Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos' operating room head nurse.

Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos, a 96-bed hospital located in Quebec, sought a system to manage its usage and automate the replenishment of consumable medical supplies used by nurses and physicians. These include needles, gloves and approximately 1,400 different types of small items utilized in medical procedures, totaling about 8,000 objects.

The hospital's main objective is to reduce the amount of time that its staff spends managing inventory, ordering supplies and waiting for those goods to arrive after a bin has been emptied. Just as important is ensuring that supplies are used before reaching their expiration date.

Prior to the RFID installation, Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos employed a periodic automatic replenishment (PAR) inventory-management system to keep tabs on its inventory levels. Based on average usage, the facility established a targeted quantity of each item that must be kept on hand, in order to support daily operations for a certain number of days. In addition to observing targeted replenishment dates based on PAR levels, material-management personnel performed daily rounds to count the number of items consumed. This effort to ensure that no supplies ran out, however, often led to overstocking.

In late 2010, Logi-ID installed 80 storage equipment cabinets at the hospital. Each of the cabinet's nine drawers is typically divided into four compartments—with two bins in the front, and two in back. In a label holder that clips onto the face of each front compartment, the hospital's staff can place a Logi-ID high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz passive RFID tag, compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, according to Jean-Philippe Racette, Logi-D's marketing coordinator. Each tag has a unique ID number linked to the supply item, Racette explains, such as a particular type of surgical glove. All of this data is stored in Logi-ID's software, which resides on the hospital's back-end system and integrates with its supply-management software.

The front compartments hold supplies that must be consumed first. Once a front bin becomes empty, a hospital employee removes the tag and its clip-on RFID label holder, and attaches it to a Logi-D RFID-enabled Lexan polycarbonate board—which measures either 14 inches by 10 inches, or 19 inches by 19 inches—mounted on the wall near the storage unit. The hospital is utilizing two of the larger boards, each of which can accommodate up to 50 tags placed in label holders on its surface. The board itself has a built-in Logi-ID reader that captures each tag's unique ID number and forwards that information to the Logi-DATA-iD software via a cabled connection. The system can also transmit via Wi-Fi.

The software then links the ID number with the supply that requires replenishment, and transmits that data to the hospital's inventory-management system, which alerts staff members to the replenishment order. In the meantime, the clinical staff uses supplies from the back compartment. Once new supplies are delivered, the material-management personnel remove all items from the back compartment and transfer them to the empty front section, and then place the newly delivered products in the now-empty back bin. The workers then detach the tag and its label holder from the replenishment board, fastening it to the face of the appropriate drawer's front bin.

The two-bin RFID replenishment system is providing Hôtel-Dieu d'Amos with several improvements over its previous system. Since the technology was installed, Labonville says, the hospital has been able to eliminate daily rounds by material-management personnel for the purpose of counting supplies. "Urgent orders"—those required in the event that supplies were completely consumed—are no longer necessary, he indicates, thereby ensuring that there are no delays due to missing supplies. And because the items are moved through this compartment-rotation system, the frequency of expired supplies that must be discarded is also reduced.

Additionally, the LogiDATA-iD software can issue alerts in the event that an RFID tag has remained on the board for an unusually long period of time, or if a product has been recalled by its manufacturer.

Alerts may be sent by e-mail to multiple recipients if necessary, or be routed to a text pager. They can also be sent to different departments, based on the supply source. For stock items (which are stored within the hospital), for example, a message would be sent to a distribution center that would then generate a pick list and deliver the supplies—or, for non-stock items (specifically packed for the hospital by an outside vendor), it would be sent to the purchasing department, which would then place an order with an outside vendor.

To date, Labonville says, the hospital has yet to measure the amount of time being saved with the 2BIN-iD RFID-enabled replenishment system. However, Racette notes, other hospitals that have installed the solution have found that its usage results in approximately a 60 percent reduction in the amount of time that the nursing staff must spend on material-related tasks, as well as a 15 percent time savings for the materials-management staff and a 50 percent reduction in recurring wastage costs. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati, however, recently carried out a study in which they observed the use of the 2BIN-iD system. Based on those observations, the research team determined how to optimize supply replenishment with RFID technology, and developed a mathematical model to set resupply triggers in the LogiDATA-iD software (see Study Shows How to Optimize RFID-Enabled Resupply System for Nurse Stations).

In addition to the RFID system, the hospital is also utilizing Logi-D's PA-iD system with voice direction, to assist its material-management staff in putting products away in the drawers. Each employee wears a headset, using voice commands to prompt the software to provide location details for specific items—gloves, for instance. A worker simply speaks into the headset microphone, indicating what he or she is putting away, and the software then links that item with its location data, providing voice instructions. The voice-directed functionality is an add-on feature to the RFID-enabled system, but does not use RFID itself.