Some day, I firmly believe that the global healthcare system will function as smoothly as some of the state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities that are prevalent today.
It might be a decade or two away given the complexity and high stakes environment that is healthcare, but that day is coming.
The presence of RFID at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society annual conference in late February only confirmed that. Although I did not attend the show this year, my expert sources tell me that RFID had an increased role at the show.
I’ve already blogged about RFID’s huge presence at the National Retail Federation show in January. I’ve got to think that this year’s HIMSS event was a similar coming out party for RFID.
Just as retailers crowded into booths at NRF to learn how they can eliminate out of stocks and track high priced items, healthcare providers were eager to learn about what services RFID exhibitors at HIMSS had to offer.
RFID is clearly gaining stature in healthcare, and movement to get into the space by some big industry names verifies that. Cardinal Health, the second largest distributor of prescription drugs, recently acquired WaveMark, a provider of RFID-enabled real-time healthcare supply chain solutions, focusing on inventory management and supply chain optimization.
Cardinal Health, with $101 billion in sales, has long been a supporter of RFID and the acquisition of WaveMark further solidifies that RFID will have a lasting role in the healthcare sector. The distributor used HIMSS as a forum to show off its acquisition.
“CIMS isn’t just about tracking inventory,” said Jean Claude Saghbini, vice president and general manager of Cardinal Health Inventory Management Solutions at Cardinal Health. “With point-of-use capture and powerful analytics, teams can streamline workflow, better manage recalls and reduce waste. The integration of RFID effectively leverages technology so everyone in the system can focus more time on what matters most—the patient.”
Another industry giant is deepening its stature in healthcare. Zebra, a publicly traded firm entrenched in the data collection business, has announced a partnership with start-up Kit Check, a provider of automated hospital pharmacy kit processing software. Kit Check recently tracked its one millionth medication when an epinephrine ampule injection tagged with RFID was used at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.
What is the attraction between a veteran industry leader like Zebra and a start-up like Kit Check? In this case, it turns out that the young company actually sought out Zebra to integrate devices used in Kit Check’s solution into Zebra’s Zatar solution, a new cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) platform for enterprises. The two companies also used HIMSS to promote the partnership.
Kit Check’s RFID-based solution is currently used in over 45 hospitals where it assists in the management and monitoring of medications.
While the moves by Cardinal Health and Zebra/Kit Check center around improving efficiencies in the drug supply chain, there is a plethora of action in healthcare when it comes to RFID-based solutions that touch almost every corner of a healthcare facility. Patient care and monitoring, asset tracking, tool safety, RFID-enabled refrigerated cabinets, hand washing and hygiene and tracking medical implants like heart pumps and prosthetics are just a handful of areas in the spotlight.
RFID industry mainstays Motorola, OAT Systems and Xerafy chose HIMSS to demonstrate a their surgical supply management system for the first time. Using Motorola Solutions’ handheld computers, the solution shows how RFID technology can improve surgical safety and surgical instrument inventory management.
Just how big of a problem is visibility when it comes to surgical equipment? According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the U.S. healthcare system discards more than $200 million of medical equipment and supplies from operating rooms each year.
In 2013, the Joint Commission issued an alert highlighting the patient safety risks associated with mismanaged surgical devices. Since 2007, there have been 770 reports of instruments being left inside patients after surgeries at U.S. hospitals, according to the Joint Commission.
These incidents are called unintended retention of foreign objects (URFO) and were responsible for 16 reported deaths. Approximately 95 percent of URFO incidents result in additional care and an extended hospital stay, and the average cost to resolve a URFO is $166,000.
That means that URFO’s have cost the healthcare industry at least $127.8 million in unnecessary costs since 2007, or $18.2 million a year that could be eliminated by having surgical tools embedded with RFID technology.
Believe it or not, saving $18.2 million a year is a low figure compared to some other RFID-enabled applications in healthcare. That’s why I continue to believe that the real sweet spot for RFID technology is in healthcare and medical.
Retail continues to get the publicity from its status as a first adopter and from the fact that RFID is helping to change the way that consumers shop. Retail and RFID is a sexy story.
Sooner or later, the coverage will shift to the amazing life saving applications being deployed by healthcare providers around the globe. Just like retail, RFID is here to stay in healthcare, where it is not only saving money but savings lives.