RFID Tagging and Tracking in Healthcare
By Vicky Atherton on 4th Jun 2016
Hospitals are characterised by many things; not least a vast amount of essential consumable and often very expensive medical equipment. From infusion and feeding pumps to wheelchairs, crutches and high-tech monitors, ensuring hospital staff have access to the right equipment whenever they require is of optimum importance for overall performance and patient wellbeing.
Keeping track of the myriad items amongst the hustle-and-bustle of a busy hospital is nothing short of a logistical nightmare. Not only do facilities managers and departmental managers need to be informed of current stock levels, knowing the exact whereabouts of machinery is paramount to providing the best possible care.
The time taken – and often wasted – by healthcare staff in tracking and locating equipment across multiple wards and departments can amass to a significant reduction in productivity.
However, there is a solution. The healthcare sector is increasingly looking towards Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging to quickly and effectively track and locate equipment with a minimum of disruption to more pressing tasks. Electronic tagging of assets is helping to streamline day-today operations and freeing up crucial man-hours for more effective usage.
How does RFID work?
RFID utilises radio waves to identify, authenticate, track and trace mobile devices. Within the healthcare sector the term ‘mobile devices’ can describe anything from the aforementioned wheelchairs, crutches, and ECG monitors to much smaller – but no-less importance items – such as syringes and blood pressure monitors.
RFID tagging empowers staff to access the unique information assigned to each tag in order to reveal its exact whereabouts. Each RFID tag can be scanned and read in less than 100 milliseconds and multiple tags can even be scanned simultaneously. Addressing existing inefficiencies in this way has clear benefits for healthcare in saving both time and money – not to mention the removal of stress for staff at the frontline who may already be lacking time resources.
Intelligent asset management
Currently, many hospitals are utilising the MEL (Medical Equipment Library) to manage equipment inventories, loan-outs and asset tracking. This central pool of equipment data ensures that valuable hardware is accounted for and tight budgets are not wasted on unnecessary losses.
It has been documented that 85% of nurses will spend at least an hour of each shift searching for various supplies and equipment – time which would be better spent caring for their patients. With the help of RFID tagging and tracking, this undesirable scenario could be easily mitigated, with a net improvement in time-usage the more likely outcome.
Not only can RFID tagging and monitoring benefit staff and healthcare organisations with regards to their day-to-day operations, but with access to a wealth of historical data, long term improvements to consumption and replenishment can be made.
Inter-departmental RFID Tracking
Often in short supply, certain types of equipment can become sought after amongst healthcare staff – leading to unauthorised hoarding or ‘stashing’ of items. This, alongside the requirement for inter-departmental loans, can lead to a malaise both in terms of asset tracking and inventory management.
On average, hospital departments will loan over 1000 pieces of medical equipment every month – with no facility for tracking these assets once they are distributed from central stores. With the use of RFID, this number can feasibly be increased to around 3,000 as a far higher percentage of equipment is returned and made immediately available for re-distribution.
As previously mentioned, small consumables can be hard to track – especially when they are pocket-sized – and, although thefts of this kind may be relatively inexpensive in small numbers, these loses can amount to significant damage over time. Add to this the vulnerability of untagged, highly-technical, big ticket items and loss prevention becomes a major concern.
Implementing RFID tagging at each of these potential loss points can save hospitals and healthcare organisations money as well as alleviating the threat of theft by allowing the constant tracking and – should a theft occur – the recovery of valuable assets.
Medical equipment isn’t the only thing of value in hospitals; keeping patients out of harm’s way and making sure vulnerable individuals are accounted for is a primary concern for healthcare organisations and their staff members.
RFID tagging can be adapted for use within wearable technology, ensuring that the large volumes of human traffic making its way in, out, and around, healthcare premises can be monitored effectively. As simple as adding a small tag to wrist bands on admission, RFID tracking empowers hospital staff to keep a keen eye on the whereabouts of patients – the elderly and new-borns in particular.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can be extremely busy and often chaotic places, making it easy for items to be misplaced or lost altogether. The development and adaptation of RFID technology within these environments can significantly improve both the productivity of staff members and loss prevention. In a sector where operating close to the bottom line is widely accepted as the ‘norm’, timely investment into cost saving technologies can be the required panacea.
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