RFID use is expanding in healthcare. How do you see it improving patient safety and clinician efficiency?
The adoption of technology like RFID is a step toward developing more autonomous systems in a pharmacy setting, thus helping close the gap in patient safety. I recall early high school days when I was a pharmacy volunteer, and my primary role was manually stocking OR trays for visual inspection by a pharmacist. It was hard not to be on auto-pilot while looking at small text on 2 mL vials, and I imagine the same could be said for the pharmacist. Workflow processes dependent on these human interventions are open to risks that amount to another hole in the Swiss cheese model and could ultimately adversely affect a patient. Since then, the implementation of RFID technology in kit or tray management has removed these human dependencies – our student workforce no longer needs to strain their eyes looking at that small text repetitively for a whole shift! More importantly, using RFID in these processes provides stronger and more effective verification of products and the quality of our output. The same can be said for other processes that used to rely on human verification and manual logging, such as receiving practices, consignment programs, etc.
What are the current challenges in adopting RFID in healthcare?
We typically find RFID regularly used in managing kits or trays and tracking expensive medications, particularly in consignment programs. This trend is likely based on a cost-benefit analysis when considering factors like the cost of tags, readers, labor associated with tag application, etc. As these tangible and intangible costs are decreased, I would anticipate that cost vs. benefit calculation would tip in favor of increased adoption of RFID within pharmacy departments. Partnerships with outsourcing facilities that increase the supply of pre-tagged products are good examples of a trend that helps move the ratio toward benefit. The more upstream RFID is adopted in our supply chain, the more realistic it is for pharmacy departments to readily adopt and expand this technology.
Thinking past the centralized inventory management in our pharmacies, our health-system pharmacy leaders should also partner with interdisciplinary colleagues to increase adoption across patient floors, clinics, and other areas where real-time visibility of medications can be fruitful for all disciplines. RFID is not limited to pharmacy applications — partnering with general supply chain leadership can help to adopt technology widely across a campus. This type of collaboration has the potential to overcome financial or educational barriers to adoption.
Where do you see the future of RFID in healthcare?
While RFID is often applied to inventory management of expensive products and medications, it could also be used to enhance strong inventory management practices across all pharmacy inventory. Current inventory management depends mostly on human action, with multi-step scanning processes, manual logs, etc. While our teams do their best to accomplish these tasks, it is not hard to understand how scanning and logging errors might occur even in the most well-intentioned processes. Implementing active RFID holistically to centralized processes like receiving, dispensing, delivering, etc., would close the gap on the inventory discrepancies that can occur today and subsequently help prevent downstream patient effects like unanticipated stock outs. A pharmacy where a technician picks an order from a carousel without having to scan the product and quantity because an active RFID reader is placed on the threshold of the carousel, and all items have RFID tags integrated — a system like this would eliminate existing human risk points.
Another area that might benefit from RFID adoption and is quickly expanding in healthcare is home delivery models, whether expanding on home infusion/home care services or acute home hospital services. With evolving regulations, pharmacy teams that support these services may need to find unique solutions for virtual inventory management and surveillance once it reaches patients’ home settings. How can we continue to support the quality and safety of patient care in a setting where an automated dispensing cabinet isn’t present for inventory management? As RFID technology becomes more readily accessible over time, supporting these models outside the four walls of our traditional healthcare setting may become a viable option.
Fresenius Kabi recognizes the importance of continually innovating the pharmaceutical industry with auto-identification technologies to support accurate, efficient data collection and safer patient care. We value the opinions of industry leaders in this field working to achieve this common goal.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the company they represent or Fresenius Kabi USA, LLC.