What Could Be in Health Care

By Mark Roberti

Many hospitals are using RFID for one application or another, but no one has yet put it all together.


Last week, RFID Journal hosted its RFID in Health Care 2012 conference and exhibition, which was held in Boston, Mass. As I listened to the presenters, I was extremely impressed. Each speaker revealed how radio frequency identification was delivering benefits to his or her hospital within a specific area. But it made me think about what could be. Imagine if a facility deployed RFID within every area of its operations, rather than just one or two.

Todd Pawlicki, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and the director of the school’s Department of Radiation Medicine and Applied Sciences, described how the university’s Moores Cancer Center is employing EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to track the amount of time that each patient awaits radiation treatment, and to verify that the correct equipment is being utilized. The solution has enabled the center to ensure patient safety and reduce waiting times (see Oncology Clinic Gains Efficiency, Safety With RFID).

Jay Adams, an IT enterprise architect at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, explained how his hospital is using an RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) to track assets. The technology eliminated the loss of telemetry devices, reduced the amount of labor associated with monitoring the temperatures of refrigerators storing pharmaceuticals and tissue samples, and lowered the cost of replacing lost or missing equipment from $70,000 annually down to $10,000. Adams said the hospital was using 700 pumps, but was able to reduce that number down to 460, thanks to the RTLS. Each pump is worth approximately $6,500, for a potential capital-expenditure reduction of $1.56 million.

Robert M. Sheridan, the director of interventional radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital‘s Department of Imaging, told attendees that an RFID-enabled inventory-management system enabled the facility to capture an additional $2.1 million in charges over the course of a year that would not have been recorded without the RFID system, thereby resulting in $1 million in additional reimbursements from insurance companies. The system delivered a 400 percent return on investment.

Diane Hubisz, the operations director at Tufts Medical Center‘s CardioVascular Center, said her 415-bed teaching hospital, in Boston, has saved $1.5 million over two years on stents, angioplasty balloons and other implantable devices, based on information provided by an RFID inventory-management system for its catheterization lab.

“We saw a lot of overstocking because technicians don’t want to tell a physician that we don’t have that item,” Hubisz explained. “As a result, you have a lot of product write-offs over time. We did have some products on consignment with our suppliers, but we had no control over inventory. We had no idea what we were consuming and what was on the shelf, and we were at a cost disadvantage because the suppliers had all the data.”

Now, Tufts has the edge in negotiations, since it has the data. But Tallahassee isn’t doing what Tufts is doing, Tufts isn’t doing what the Moores Cancer Center is doing, and the Moores Cancer Center isn’t doing what Massachusetts General is doing.

That’s probably not a bad thing. RFID projects can be challenging, and hospitals can’t fund every RFID project, nor could they manage multiple complex deployments very easily. But what is exciting is that as each hospital deploys a system and it becomes part of its normal operations, the facility can then introduce another application, and another. These systems can not only cut costs, but also improve patient safety and allow doctors and nurses to focus on the task of caring for patients.

As Massachusetts General’s Sheridan said, “We’re not in the business of making money in health care, but we’re not in the business of losing money, either. How can we reinvest in our infrastructure if we are losing money?”

Videos of the event’s presentations can be viewed here.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.