RFID
RFID Talk Blog

Guest Blog: RFID saves lives in healthcare

Today’s guest blog comes from Joe Pleshek, CEO at Terso Solutions. Joe has some great insight into how RFID can help the healthcare industry to save billions by improving patient safety and squeezing inefficiencies out of the supply chain.

Here is the blog post:

Terso Solutions CEO Joe Pleshek

It’s a great time to be the CEO of a technology company providing RFID solutions to the life sciences and healthcare sector. RFID technology continues to change the way people work and is rapidly reaching a tipping point in the life sciences, medical and healthcare community.

One might argue that we have not come close to reaching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to RFID adoption in healthcare, but that is also encouraging, as the plethora of successful solutions already in use stand to be leapfrogged moving forward as more complex and more affordable solutions enter the market.

One of the biggest developments this summer was the Food & Drug Administration’s approval of a product to track and trace the supply chain for blood products. The solution was developed right in our own backyard by several Wisconsin-based entities, including the RFID Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, and SysLogic. Called iTrace, the product approved by the FDA allows blood banks to automate the check-in process for blood bags at donor sites and eliminates line-of-sight requirements for checking in blood products to the manufacturing process.

In addition, the RFID solution streamlines the process of preparing blood products for shipment to hospitals or transfusion centers. iTrace for Blood Centers can increase workflow efficiency, provide increased visibility to inventory, as well as reduce the cost of compliance in blood product tracking and reconciliation. Right now the product is available only for blood centers like those run by the American Red Cross or other private centers; it requires further FDA approval before it can be used in hospitals.

Aside from these benefits, consider that eliminating one bad blood transfusion is a monumental benefit, not only from a patient safety perspective but for the healthcare provider. Research data shows that an error occurs in about one in every 12,000 transfusions do to a material mixup. While that might seem like a relatively low incident rate, the chances of a bad transfusion increase for busy hospitals that may transfuse 70,000 units of blood a year or more.

Many transfusion mistakes can cause fatal reactions for the patient, and industry estimates say that each incident results in additional costs of $3.5 – $4 million for the healthcare provider. According to the American Red Cross, 30 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S. If the 1-in-12 ratio stands correct, eliminating bad blood transfusions entirely represents a multi-billion opportunity for healthcare providers in cost avoidance alone.

Hospitals are very interested in using the RFID solution to create a hands-free environment when working with blood transfusions, taking bar code scanners out of the hands of medical personnel. The protocol for the majority of blood transfusions requires two nurses to conduct a manual and laborious quality control audit. One nurse reads the patient’s ID number from his wrist band, while another nurse reads the blood bag’s ID number to ensure a match. In a day and age where constant demands are placed on nursing staff, eliminating a manual process in favor of an RFID-based solution can help hospitals to better utilize staff resources and improve patient safety.

It seems like there is a big news event nearly every week when it comes to RFID and healthcare. Innovation continues to move RFID into new applications that seemed impossible a short time ago. A consortium of hospitals in Europe, for example, just announced that they are piloting the use of UHF RFID tags for tracking surgical instruments. It marks the first time that UHF technology has ever been used for this use case. Sponsored by the Danish government fund for innovation, the pilot project is comprised of hospitals and national health authorities including Rigshospital Copenhagen, Aarhus University Hospital, Aalborg University Hospital, Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden and the University Hospital in Lund, Sweden as well GS1 Denmark, the Danish health innovation society, and the Danish Medical technician society.

The project hopes to serve as a proof of concept for using UHF RFID to comply with upcoming U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations for unique device identification (UDI) in hospitals. In addition, RFID-enabling sterilization centers at the instrument level should lead to increases in patient safety, optimize logistics and storage of surgical instruments within hospitals, and improve workflow at central sterile supply departments and surgical theaters.

I’ve said it time and time again — the process efficiencies and supply chain improvements enabled by RFID in healthcare are invaluable. The technology has the ability to remove billions in costs from the medical and healthcare industry, which should make healthcare more affordable moving forward. On top of tremendous fiscal benefits, RFID continues to be about about saving lives. What other technology can say that?

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